Open Relationship Mini Interview with Katie: Fluidity in Long Term Relationships

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That no matter how progressive your family might be, they might have a very difficult time accepting plural relationships. In my adulthood, I’ve only had one protracted fight or falling-out with my mother, and it was over my concurrent relationships with two men. Her inability to understand came out as disgust and it hurt me tremendously for quite some time. Also, that you yourself must want that type of love in your life – don’t ever get into it because of someone else’s ultimatum.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Initially, when I began, it was pretty much a neverending onslaught upon my sense of security and self worth. Living in a world that upholds monogamy as the ultimate form of love really shapes the way you view loving and being loved — when someone doesn’t approach you and your relationship in the de facto ways, it can be very disorienting and scary. I struggled a great deal with jealousy, but much of that had to do with my (at the time) primary partner’s adherence to the old adage “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission”. I felt like a lot of stuff happened without consulting me first, and that my concerns about partner selection were not being heard. In the end, I suppose I overcame that by not remaining with that partner. He was a lovely person who was not a good partnership fit for me — acquiring the knowledge that you can love and respect someone a great deal but not “fit” with them was a real eye-opener.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

It forced a great deal of introspection in my early/mid 20s. I learned myself, my emotional patterns and my weaknesses very, very well. Through a great deal of reading (I’m particularly partial to Tristan Taormino’s “Opening Up”), I learned a tremendous amount about non-violent communication. How to know what I wanted or needed and how to ask for it without resorting to passive aggression (or straight-up aggression) has been a boon to literally every other aspect of my life, too.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m no longer actively nonmonogamous. In short order, I’m marrying the person who was, for several years, my secondary partner. Meeting each other on the terms of an atypical relationship structure forced us to communicate on a different level than if we had met each other as single people. There was a lot of deep discussion that might not otherwise have happened at such early stages. The raw honesty that was required forged an incredibly solid bond between the two of us. We’re certainly keeping ourselves open in theory if not in active practice, as we feel it stops us from lapsing into bored complacency. There’s a bit of a safety valve built in there, too. If we become infatuated with someone else, knowing we can talk to each other about it and possibly negotiate for a very happy conclusion really takes some of the pressure off of a long-term commitment to each other. It’s very unlikely either of us would run off with a sexy coworker or what have you, if we acknowledge the truth fluidity of desire within a long-term relationship.

The Best Things I Wrote About Sex, Gender, & Relationships in 2012

Lily at Black Leather Belt is putting together the #SexReader, a new roundup of the best sex blog posts, and the first one is Best of 2012, so I have been looking over the past year.

I haven’t written as much, here, as I have in the past. I’m kind of sad about that, but that’s just the way 2012 was. My year was shaping up to be the Best Year Ever in January & February when Kristen and I were navigating the brand new openness of our relationship and I was falling in love with Rife, but in March when my dad died, everything got thrown off. I threw myself into traveling for my erotica anthology, Say Please, from April through August, and by the time I got back in August, Kristen had lost her job and I was a wreck. I’ve been working to pick up the pieces since then. Though I’ve continued to see Rife every other month or so, I haven’t written a lot about him here.

The combination of personal crises and traveling this year has meant that I have spent a whole lot more time in my inbox, and processing my fucking feelings, than I have spent writing.

Still, there were some notable posts in 2012.

I started the year by writing weekly love letters to Kristen. I didn’t continue them, but I wrote a couple dozen. From Love Letter #16:

It’s interesting to actually put the non-monogamy into practice. In some ways it feels like the most secure a relationship could be, that we both know to the core so deeply that our relationship is so good and solid that it’s totally okay for us to explore with other people. At our good moments that’s how it feels, anyway. In our harder moments, it’s a lot of reassurance—for both of us—that what we’re doing isn’t going to fuck up what we have. That is so, so important to me, to keep us safe and to not do anything that might jeopardize the foundation we’re building and the intensity between us and our sexual spark and all of those things, and if ever you feel like I am doing something that jeopardizes that, I want to know and I want to fix it as immediately as possible. I trust that, deeply; I have faith in us and I think we can figure this out. It’s hard, it continues to be hard, but I’m excited about the possibilities this is opening up and I’m glad we are exploring together.

I came out about opening up our relationship, and dating Rife, and how Kristen and I were dealing with that, in March 2012 with On Opening Up My Relationship With Kristen

I love you (I told her) and I don’t think this has to or does or will take away from that, from us. … Beyond that, I started asking myself and her: How can I love you well? How can I love you better than I do? How can I continue to make you feel special in our relationship, in ways other than exclusive sex? That is only one way, one fairly arbitrary way. What are the things we both need? How do we ensure that happens well?

We came up with some agreements about what I would or wouldn’t do with him, how we’d see each other, what kind of contact we’d have, and how my relationship and sexual connection with Kristen would be kept as the highest priority. It took a long time to negotiate that, to try some things and then try other things, and it’s a working document that keeps changing.

It’s still hard—there is still jealousy and insecurity and uncertainty, but the fighting has basically ceased. There are still complications, and we talk through it. We’ve been negotiating—fairly well, I would say—ever since.

I also wrote a few posts about Rife, like our adventures at IMsL, in Like a Faggot, published in June 2012:

“I like your cock in my ass. I like it. Please, Sir, fuck my ass. Please please please.” His pleading cries became whimpers and I groaned, my hips jerking hard against his in response.

“Good boy,” I muttered as my cock slid in and out. I wrapped my arms around him, held us together, breathing hard, and brought my hand between his legs to his clit again, thrumming it gently, sensitive now. “Mmm, fuck, you feel good. Your ass is nice and tight, feels good on my cock. I like to fill you up. Squeeze me harder, let me feel how tight you are, that’s it, yeah.” He came again, squirting, I could see it darken the blanket as his body thrust forward in contractions.

“Just a little more. Then I’m going to beat you.” I slid in and he moaned deep. He whimpered and shook, straightening his body upright until I pushed him back onto the table.

“Take it,” I growled. “Just a little more. Take it like a faggot. You can do it. Come on, dirty boy, I know you like it.” He didn’t stop shaking, barely holding himself up on his legs, and I thrust in again, and again. I rambled on as I worked up a slick sweat. I wanted to wear him out, warm him up before I started beating him. “Do it for me again, faggot. Come on, boy, come on my cock while I fuck you. Do it. Do it for me.”

Kristen and I had some really good scenes this year, too. The Three Minute Game, June 2012

“For my pleasure …” I swallowed. “I would like you to kiss my feet.” We’ve played with this a little. It is only recently that I have admitted how much I like it—to myself and others—enough to actually experiment with the sensation. It makes me nervous to ask for. But that is partly what this game is for, and it’s only three minutes. I can do just about anything for three minutes.

She nodded, looked at me a little coyly, chin down eyes up lips parted, and said, “And suck your toes?”

My breath caught. “Yes,” I think I managed to say. I think it was audible. So nervous. And it’s something that I wanted to feel, so much.

I set the timer again and she slid down the bed on her belly to take my right foot in her hands and deliver a sprinkling of kisses along the top of it. She ran her tongue along the instep, the most sensitive part, and sucked gently with her lips. She tongued the crease between my big toe and second toe before sliding the larger into her mouth.

I groaned.

Another good Kristen story got really dirty: Dirty Filthy Nasty, September 2012:

I bring the bottle of lube, twist my legs up onto the bed and get on my knees, grab her thighs with my hands and pull her hips toward me so she’s at an angle. I pump the lube twice—once over the lips of her cunt, once on the head of my dick. I rub it slowly with my hand, showing off a little because I know she likes to watch me jerk off. Her legs are open on either side of my knees. Her cunt is mostly bare, her lips are pink and swollen.

“Fuck.”

I grip her inner thighs in my hands and poise my cock with my hips. Taking the cock in my fist, I use the head of my cock to rub the lube along her slit, rubbing it on her cunt, slick and smooth, and then smack her with it a few times, before I slide in. I reach up to her wrists and my hands fit so easily around them, she feels so small. She struggles against me, just a little, pushing back, but I have gravity and more than fifty pounds on her—we both know it’s for show. A request to hold her harder, a request to keep her down. We both shudder as I slide in deeper and put more of my weight down onto her, and she wraps her legs around me, her arms around my shoulders.

I vow to go slow, I keep repeating in my head, go slow go slow slow down go slow, but she feels so fucking good and she’s so wet and slick and pulsing around me so tight, and I’m so hard and deep, my hips start bucking and I don’t restrain them. She moans. I fuck her harder, reaching down with my right hand to lop my elbow around her calf and pull her knee up, her legs apart.

“Baby, baby, baby …”

I wish it was a given that I would fuck her like this until I shoot. I wish it was more consistent, to come inside her, to get off while she writhes.

There was a femme conference in August, and I wrote some about policing the femme identity and what it’s like to go to an identity-based conference: Are You Femme Enough for the Femme Conference? July 2012

I think the bottom line is that it’s incredibly complicated to occupy a socially-recognized identity like butch or femme, because while we have stereotypical versions of what those things “should” look like in our minds, we don’t necessarily have the complex deconstructions (and reconstructions) necessary to be able to see that person as butch or femme and all their other pieces of self too. Or, if the person doesn’t quite look like the stereotype, we don’t recognize them as “legitimate.” These queer cultures still see someone, recognizes them as butch or femme or neither, and draws all sorts of conclusions based on that.

People are probably always going to do this. I don’t mean that in an I-give-up kind of way, just in a this-is-probably-true-and-I-will-have-less-strife-in-my-life-if-I-accept-that kind of way.

And y’know, fuck that. I mean, I completely understand that that is a challenge and hard and sometimes makes me return home defeated after a night and just kinda cry and whine for a while, I also think part of the work of having these identities is recognizing that we are trying to rise them above stereotypes, and that the cultures we’re in still largely use big fat markers to draw pictures of these identities, not slim exact-shaded pencils. And part of our work, I believe, part of the work of occupying these identities, is uncoupling them from the heteronormative gender roles, and making them big enough and accessible to anyone who feels a resonance with them. They can be liberational, and the benefits of identifying with a gender lineage, a gender heritage, feels so important to me, putting me in a historical context with people who came before me, so I feel less alone in my forging forward. I’m not doing it exactly as they did it, I’m doing it my own way and in the context of my own communities and time and culture, but I am able to remake it and make more room for freedom and consciousness and liberation within it because I am on their shoulders, using the tools they left for me—us—to pick up.

That is all to say, you are femme enough to attend the femme conference. Or, you know, if you don’t identify as femme but you have some interest in learning more about femme identity and being around femmes and folks who are puzzling through femme identity, you can come too.

Though by far, the most viewed post was this one: Sugarbutch Star: blckndblue: The Pink Dress, January 2012, which is fiction.

“Was there something that you wanted? Sir?” She adds the last word in a low, sweet voice and my cock pulses. I drop my hand holding the glass to my side. Extending her arms around my neck, she draws closer to me. I can smell the sticky sweet of her lipstick. I lick my lips. Swallow again. My mouth is dry. I lift my arm, take a swig of the whiskey, and it goes down like a knife. She offers me her lips when I drop the glass again, whispering right up next to mine but not touching. She waits. I kiss her and her mouth is like candy, like being enveloped in silk. My knees go weak again and I lean against the wall to hold myself up. Her lipstick is a smear on my mouth and I don’t care. She leaves a trail of lip prints along my jaw and to the curve of my neck and I don’t care. She is devouring me one kiss at a time and I don’t care. My whole body shudders between her and the wall, held up by both.

She pulls on my earlobe between her lips before she whispers in my ear, “I would like to suck your cock now.” It’s almost a question, almost asking for permission, she knows that’s usually how it works, but this time it is more of a statement of intent. I notice she doesn’t say “sir” but I don’t care. She’s calling the shots now. She drags her body down mine and her skirt fans out around her legs as she kneels in front of me. She looks up, hands on her thighs, and waits, lips parted a little, lipstick smeared and thick which makes her mouth look even more swollen. I breathe deep, trying to focus. I’m supposed to do something. I manage to set the glass of whiskey down on the side table nearby and unbuckle my belt, unzip my pants, pull out my cock. She sits up on her knees to get it lined up with her mouth.

She holds the tip of my cock right outside of her lips, breathing, looking up at me, before dropping her eyes and extending her tongue, flat and soft, to lap the underside, and brings her lips forward to circle just the head and suck. She lifts her eyes again. I swoon, my head swirling, the bowl of my pelvis full and trying not to spill over. Her tongue plays down the shaft and leisurely flicks every little ridge. Her lips are soft and warm and I can feel every contour, every smooth curve.

I spent most of the last six months trying to untangle myself from grief. I wrote a little bit about that, like in Grief. Also, Trying to Find My Awesome Place:

Grief is not singular, it is not linear, it usually doesn’t even feel particularly knowable. It’s a mess, (or as I keep saying) a fog. Something engulfing that chokes and invades my lungs.

Grief it is not just about this one loss, either: it is about all losses, everywhere, ever, especially the ones I have felt. People keep reminding me of this, and yet I keep feeling surprised when I turn a corner and get sucker-punched by a memory of Cheryl, of an ex, of my fucking dog when I was seven, of every goddamn time I have to say goodbye to Rife, of those looks Kristen gives me when she’s angry and hurt and it’s my fault.

I know that what I’m feeling isn’t about that, except that it is. I know that what I’m feeling won’t last, except that it is seeping into every pore of me and I know that I am forever changed. (Fuck that sounds so dramatic. Forgive me the drama. It’s what drama was made for: loss, grief, feeling.) But it’s also true: Nothing is the same. It’s taken me months to feel that really sink in. March to August, I might argue. In August, I lost it. Since August, I’ve been trying to get it back. I don’t know how. Kristen doesn’t know how. We are both unsure what to do now, but it’s clear that we can’t quite keep going the way we’ve been going, spiraling down into something awful, me lashing out and angry, so angry. Why am I so angry? I know why I’m so angry. I probably need a punching bag daily.

We don’t know what to do, but also we kind of do. Or I guess I am starting to.

When I look back at the year, clearly the things that get the most visitors are the dirty stories. I’d like to write more of those in 2013. I like writing smut. It’s deeply pleasurable. I’d like to write more about Rife and the deep D/s that that relationship is developing. I’d like to write more about power and relationships and codependency and the ways that things can go so wrong. Mostly, I’ve just been waiting to get through these crisis months.

In this, the darkest time of year, the solstice, the time when we burn the Yule log, I keep thinking about the things I want to leave in the dark, the seeds I want to plant that will start to pop open under the surface in the next few months before pushing through the topsoil, the things that I want to grow.

I want more emotional resilience.
I want more self-confidence, less insecurity. To let go and be less controlling.
I want more radical acceptance of what is in front of me.
I want to date Kristen again.
I want to spend more time loving and less time fighting.
I want more sex. Goddamnit.
I want less railing, clinging, obsession, torture.
I want to leave the black hole of depression and grief here in the deep dark.
I want more love. More lovers. More exploration. More pleasure.

More pleasure. Yes—if I had to sum up my intentions for 2013, that would be it. More pleasure. Less grief.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Colin: Jealousy is a Pain Reaction

Colin

Reading your questions, I realize that I may not be the target interviewee for you, since, while I am technically in an open relationship, it’s because I identify as poly and have for way longer than I’ve been in this relationship. My girlfriend is dating someone of equal importance to me and was dating him before I came along. Still, I’ll answer the questions in hopes of being useful!

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

While no two open relationships are the same, there’s some basic stuff that I wish was more common knowledge. ‘Communication is key’ is one that gets taught to all poly people who get taught anything at all, and it’s very true, but ‘No Surprises’ is a solid guideline that makes any open relationship easier. Gonna start dating or fucking somebody? Tell your partners before it’s a sure thing. It may cut down on spontaneity, but it dramatically reduces paranoia and resentment.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

This question doesn’t quite apply to me. I identify as polyamorous, which means that I only go into relationships with the understanding that they will be open. The relationship that I had that went from closed to open didn’t work out and is now in the distant past.

When it was still pertinent, jealousy was an issue and I’ve seen it be an issue for a lot of people. It can still be one now for me, but I approach it far differently than I used to. I see jealousy as a pain reaction — it’s your psyche reacting to something uncomfortable. Sometimes you feel uncertain that your partner values you as much as you need, sometimes you feel like you’re not on the same page, sometimes you don’t feel like you know your partner’s partner well enough. In all cases, letting the jealousy dictate your actions is a bad idea; you want to get to the root cause of the jealousy and explore what might alleviate it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Being polyamorous has allowed me to explore a lot of different kinds of love, sex, affection, and intimacy. If I were monogamous, I never could have maintained an asexual relationship, but I have since come to have a few and feel deep love for the people I had them with.

I’m not interested in having a power or kink dynamic with my ‘primary’ partner; I need an equitable partnership. But since I’m poly, I am free to explore kink that my partner and I aren’t interested in doing with each other! (‘course, I have run into problems with my local kink scene, but it has nothing to do with polyamory.)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

‘Open relationships’ creates a very wide umbrella. It covers people who love only each other but can fuck others individually, it covers people who love only each other and will only fuck others together, and it can cover people who love each other and are free to love others.

It doesn’t necessarily cover people who consider themselves to be polyamorous by identity but aren’t currently partnered. When I am single, I’ll only date someone who is willing to enter into an open relationship. ‘Open’ also doesn’t necessarily cover polyfidelity, where a member of a relationship is dating more than one person, but not open to any new relationships.

There are more types of multi-person relationship than there are terms to cover it, but I’m still glad to see the concept getting more attention!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Ozy: Compersion is Seriously Excellent

Ozy Frantz, ozyfrantz.com.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

The biggest insight I have about open relationships is that they’re less difficult than you think they are. Admittedly, I kind of fell into polyamory by accident. My now-girlfriend then-roommate hooked up with a guy that she thought I’d be interested in (we both liked comics). Like the kind and generous-souled person she is, she brought him home. That night, the guy and I ended up having sex with my now-girlfriend in the room reading Sandman; we invited her to join us and by the next morning, without anyone quite meaning to, we were all dating.

So I didn’t really put much thought into the whole “becoming polyamorous” thing. If I had, I probably would have processed it a lot more than I did and worried about jealousy and time management and communication and all that stuff. In practice, though, polyamory is basically like a monogamous relationship, except with more people. Good intentions, communication, and honestly wanting the best for each other is the most important thing.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing for me is that I tend to be very afraid that people will abandon me if I don’t do everything right. So sometimes I get worried that my partners will leave me. That’s really the only time I get jealous: normally, I’m not a jealous person at all. The big thing for me was realizing that my jealousy and fear of abandonment are important issues. I had– still do have, in a way– a tendency to repress my emotions because they’re irrational and I shouldn’t have them. But even though my fear of abandonment is very irrational, it’s still real. It’s okay for me to bring up that I’ve been feeling abandoned lately and to talk about it with my partners and make sure they spend some extra time taking care of me until I feel more secure.

Also, dishes. My poly household gets into some truly epic arguments about dishes.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Compersion is seriously excellent. You know that feeling when you’re watching your favorite TV show and the couple you’ve been rooting for for six seasons finally gets together? Like that, but for real people. Not to mention that finally there’s someone who is as interested in discussing the fabulosity of your romantic partners as you are, as opposed to your regular friends, who would really just prefer you get back to discussing My Little Pony.

I also like the way polyamory makes relationships so much more fluid. I feel like, with monogamous relationships, there’s a certain mold you’re supposed to fit: sex on the third date, “I love you” by month six, moving in together after a year, that sort of thing. But because of polyamory I can have all kinds of relationships that enrich my life but would be deeply unsatisfying as my only relationship. A romantic relationship where we don’t have sex, a platonic relationship where we love each other and have sex but still don’t want to date, long-distance relationships, flirty platonic friendships… every relationship grows into its own unique form once you take away the way it “has” to be.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s amazing how natural polyamory feels to me. It’s like the final puzzle piece clicking into place, a puzzle piece I didn’t even know was missing but now that it’s here the entire picture makes sense. Normally I’m a very analytical person who questions whether I’m “really X” a lot, but I have never questioned being polyamorous since I started. I literally cannot imagine going back to monogamy.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Doodle: Assumptions, Impatience, Jealousy, Emotional Freedom

Doodle, @doodle_pops

Before I get started with my answers, for context, I live with my fiance, boyfriend, girlfriend, and metamour, most of whom have relationships outside our family, although I currently do not. The five of us are in this for the long haul and intend to spend the rest of our lives together, although that was not initially the plan.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had realised how many assumptions I was making. When I negotiated opening my relationship, I was dating my fiance. Then I fell in love with a married man, who I knew was in an open relationship. I made a number of assumptions about what it meant to be married and open (that we were allowed sex but not feelings, that his wife would always take priority over me, that I had the right to sleep with him, but not the right to hang out and watch movies with him, that I couldn’t ever call him and ask if he was free because I’d be intruding on time I assumed he was spending with his wife and she would get irritated and end our relationship, that our relationship could never be anything long term, because he and his wife did want to settle down to monogamy at some point) which were all completely untrue.

At some point, the word ‘polyamorous’ was mentioned instead of ‘open relationship’ and I looked it up and realised that the model I’d been basing my assumptions on might not be true and I should probably check. (I’d spent three months trying to pretend unsuccessfully that I wasn’t in love with him at that point.) Not a one of them turned out to be true. Funny, that.

I wish I’d realised that signing up for a relationship includes signing up for me when I have inconvenient feelings, instead of just when I’m at my best. I tried to ‘protect’ my other partners from that for a while. Big mistake!

I wish I’d realised that if I wanted to know how my boyfriend and his wife thought about a topic, I had to ask them both, instead of asking him and assuming I was getting the ‘party line’, so to speak. Had I just had the nerve to speak to his wife, all of these misunderstandings would have been cleared up in half an hour and I’d have fallen in love with her sooner.

I also wish I had been less impatient with my fiance. It wasn’t until two years later where he found someone he liked and was in a relationship with, as opposed to casual sex and I suddenly realised how hard I had pushed him in the beginning, how little time I gave him to adapt, because I was in the New and Shiny time and I didn’t realise what I was doing. I have come to a new appreciation of how well he was dealing back then.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

For me, personally, it’s letting other people in. I have recurrent depression and gender dysphoria, so it’s really important for me to be able to say to my loves “I can’t stop thinking X terrible thing about myself, even though I know it isn’t true. Can I have a hug and some reassurance, please?” It’s one of my methods of coping, but it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable.

I’ve been with my fiance longer than my boyfriend and girlfriend, so it’s easier to talk to him than it is the others, because I’ve had more practice.

Letting more people in, past the defences I put up, feels intensely vulnerable. The only way to overcome it is to keep trying, hour by hour, day by day. I remember a quote from Neil Gaiman that summed my strategy up in a nutshell. He was talking about making art, but I think it applies to an awful lot of polyamory, too. “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself- that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

Jealousy is kinda horrible for everyone and while it comes up more and more infrequently as we get better at navigating it, it so often blindsides us. I have a horrid tendency to compare myself to my metamours and think “If they’re dating this person, it must be X quality that I don’t possess that attracts them! Oh no, I must cultivate a more femme gender expression/a love of knitting/the ability to not be squicked by certain sexual acts/a more dominant-than-thou aura of command for kinky fun times/the ability to not be bored to tears by ice hockey!” It is utterly ridiculous.

I’m finding that because I tried to protect my loves from my feelings for so long, I’ve got a backlog of stuff to work through with them, now I finally feel secure about our long term future. They didn’t even know that I was doing that! The moral here, ladies and gents: do not bottle up your feelings. Lesson learned.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Emotional freedom. Hands down. When I was monogamous, I always said I would be more upset if my partners fell in love with someone else, than if they slept with them. (With the caveat of “and didn’t tell me about it”, this is still true.)

As a result of that feeling, I felt that the most important thing I could do to show fidelity was never be more than casual friends with someone I was attracted to. This is a problem when you consider that I have a large number of incredibly attractive friends, both in terms of looks and personality. At the start of monogamous relationships, I used to have to explain to partners that I expected them to make exceptions to this rule for my two best friends. (It worked really well, until I fell in love with one of my aforementioned best friends.)

I realise this is not how everyone does monogamy, but it’s how monogamy was drummed into my head. I tried for a long time to change my definition of monogamy, but it only led to a nagging feeling that I was doing it wrong somehow. It wasn’t til I left it behind entirely that I realised how much it’d stifled me.

Now, I don’t have to have designated best friends who are exceptions to this rule. An example- one of my closer friends is, somewhat unusually for our crowd, entirely monogamous (and does not do monogamy the unhealthy way I used to) and our friendship can just be what it is, as deep as it is, with as much love as there is, instead of me having to force it into the shallows for the sake of his marriage or my relationships. And that applies to every single person in my life, too.

I may have gotten into poly because there was a cute boy I wanted to sleep with, but this, this right here, is why I’ve signed up for lifelong poly.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There will be people reading this thinking “This is all well and good, but can it work in the long term?” because they want it, but they’re scared of trying, scared of messing up or because the way they want to do poly looks different from the way people on the internet do it.

Please, oh faceless denizens of the internet, have faith in yourself and try. I don’t know of another poly family the size of mine who live under one roof anywhere in the world. The five of us still bought a house and intend to still be in it when we’re seventy. There are so many different people doing poly who don’t talk about it on the internet.

I went to Polyday ( http://www.polyday.org.uk/ ) in London last year and there were folks there who had been poly since before I was born and raised grown up kids who had gone on to be poly themselves. Find out for yourselves, if this is what you want.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Parks: This is Magic, I Promise

Parks Dunlap. parksdunlap.wordpress.com

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

(I’m currently in my early twenties, so my younger self would be nineteen and stubbornly monogamous.) I would tell her, Working two jobs is not the way to be so busy you won’t form crushes on other people than your partner. You will still fall in love with about three people you shouldn’t have. Don’t get married just yet, but you’ll figure that one out. Nonmonogamy is not a quick fix solution, but it will feel a whole lot better than repeating, “you are monogamous. You are monogamous. Focus,” to yourself all the time. BDSM is a significant part of the reason you are nonmonogamous. And it is okay to want that. This is all going to be really hard, and it/s going to feel like you are starting over, but this is going to be magic, I promise.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships has been acknowledging the shame that comes with wanting, with desire, and with breaking away from queer assimilationist relationship expectations. It is often hard to feel wanted, and to want. And it is really hard for me to trust that its okay to be a big slut. I’m from a conservative southern family, so rejecting and fucking within that socialization is hard work.

The other thing that is often hard checking my privilege and learning how to be an ally. This is a constant practice outside of and in relationships. I think that it is often hard to see my relationships as non-neutral ground, and see the way social structures affect my relationships. For example, a partner of mine does not have the hours to date other people because she works a full time job and goes to school full time. I have the class privilege that I do not need to work a full time job while in school. We have had to discuss the complicated feelings that come with this difference in our lives, and the jealousy that comes up when I have time, money, and energy to date and she does not.

I have not overcome either of these things, but I have found things that help. Asking for affirmation from my partners and poly friends helps with the guilt, and my two sisters are really supportive of my dating multiple people, which is super helpful. The privilege and ally thing is going to be something I work at my entire life. I have learned that shutting up when called in, and taking notes during those long processing conversations is really helpful. Google is also an excellent resource.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

How hard it is. It is constantly pinning me into a corner and forcing me to look at my own vulnerability. It has really helped me to grow as an individual. Also I really love playing the game of “when I grow up and have babies with all my queer poly friends what color are we going to paint the porch?”/having queer Dad house butch dreams.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I have been so impressed with the majority of queer poly folks I have befriended, worked with, and admired from afar. I think that poly done in a radical context can be serious political work. And if anyone ever has the chance to hang out with Joy Fairfield, who presented at this year’s Open SF conference, ask her about her Rhizomatic Intimacy lecture. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Andrea Zanin: Applies to All Relationships, Not Just Poly

Andrea Zanin aka Sex Geek, sexgeek.wordpress.com & 10 Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

To preface this, and my other answers here, I don’t think much of what I have to say is particular to polyamory. It’s about relationships, and it so happens that I’ve been doing polyamorous relationships since my very early twenties, so for nearly fifteen years now. But I’m pretty sure most of this would still apply if I were monogamous.

I’d tell my younger self that it’s okay to break up—that breaking up does not mean failure, and that there’s no bean-counter in the sky judging me if I haven’t tried absolutely every single possible thing to save a relationship. Deep joy is crucial. If a relationship drains you for a little while as you work through something difficult, fine. But if your experience is one of constant drain, pain or sadness, and there’s no realistic way that’ll change substantially in the foreseeable future, then it actually doesn’t matter how much you love someone, or how much they love you, or whose fault any of the bad stuff is. It’s okay to leave just because you’re unhappy. You have permission.

I’d also share a term I came up with just a few months ago: “terminal issue.” All relationships encounter challenges, right? Sometimes we don’t even register them as such because we deal with them so easily and quickly. Sometimes they take up space for quite some time, or are especially big and painful, but then we resolve them and they don’t come back. But sometimes they last, and last, and last; or they get worse over time; or they arrive in one fell swoop, but are so gigantic they stop us in our tracks. Eventually, those big or long-lasting issues, if they’re serious enough, are the ones that can lead to a split. Those are what I call terminal issues.

In my experience, the terminal issues are rarely about circumstance or outside events, though outside events can reveal or exacerbate them. They’re the ones that relate to deep-level incompatibility—the structural components of two people’s personalities, psyches and life philosophies that simply aren’t going to budge enough to accommodate one another and result in mutual joy. To wit, if I look back at my past relationship splits, the terminal issues are ones that would still be present today if I tried to get back together with the person, even many years later. Neither of us magically changed after a split. No amount of work would have made us fit better. I think that the more clearly I learn to discern workable issues from terminal issues, the more I understand how compatibility is crucial, and the less important it becomes to figure out who’s at fault when that compatibility is absent in a given area.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that? 

It’s been challenging to understand the difference between poly as a value system and poly as a concrete practice. For me, they go so closely together that I make no separation, but I’ve learned that for many people this is not the case, and it’s been a painful lesson. For some people, poly is a value that may or may not translate into practice for any number of circumstantial reasons (health, time, emotional readiness, etc.). For some, it’s a practice that may not relate to a value system; it’s simply helping them meet a need (sex, closeness, whatever) at the moment. Neither one is inherently better, but they do lead to two very different ranges of assumptions, some of which may clash. I am definitely better off being involved with other people who, like me, hold polyamory as a core value or a key element of their identity. I was devastated once, for instance, by a lover who took for granted that if she got seriously involved with someone, we’d split up (I didn’t know this). So when she announced she’d found a partner, for her that was a breakup conversation, but I was just happy for her and still looking forward to our next play date. To her it was obvious: a real relationship meant no more playing around with me. To me it wasn’t obvious at all—after all, we were playing around even though I was in two serious relationships myself! Clearing that one up was pretty ouchy. Definitely it taught me to ask more questions about value systems from the get-go.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

It’s allowed me to live by my ethics rather than accept the ones that were fed to me as a child. Full honesty, not just honesty about the stuff you’re supposed to think and feel and want, and denial about the rest. Real, vibrant, living desire, not duty. Deep, gentle commitment to everyday relationship quality, with longevity as a by-product, rather than a gritty commitment to stay together til death do us part while ignoring the daily cultivation of intimacy. Poly has also allowed me to co-create the kind of family I deeply value, with long-term partners, metamours and friends who are, frankly, amazing people.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I learned the word “idiolect” the other day, and I think it’s a really handy one. It’s a linguistics term that essentially means each person’s totally unique, individual way of speaking a given language. I think the concept can apply to emotions, too.

Think about the experience of physical pain. It can be very real and intense for the person experiencing it, but anybody looking on can only ever understand it from the way it manifests. If different people are experiencing identical pain, one might scream and cry, the second might grit their teeth and be stoic, the third might giggle and make light of it, the fourth might faint, the fifth might get angry and kick the wall. They’re all legit pain responses, but an onlooker might have a very different read on what’s actually going on in each situation.

The same is true for most inner experiences. The way each person expresses, for instance, respect, care, desire or anger is all just their individual manifestation of what’s going on inside. Figuring this out means it’s become easier for me to ask questions about the inner experience instead of interpreting it all from the outward manifestation and reacting only to that. Questions like, “What does X mean to you?” “What is your reasoning behind Y?” “What is your intent when you say or do Z?” “When you act in this way, what’s going on inside you?” When I start to understand how their emotional idiolect works, I have an easier time immediately “hearing” what they’re “saying.”

So, for instance…
Manifestation: Partner is unfocused and keeps changing the subject.
Interpretation: If I were doing this, it would be a sign I probably wasn’t too interested in the conversation, or had a big issue on my mind.
Question: You seem distracted. What’s going on with you right now?
Inner experience: This means they have low blood sugar, not that they don’t care what I’m saying.
Solution: Feed them now, talk later.

I find that if I remove the focus on the outward expression and look to the inner experience instead, it’s relatively easy to empathize with my partners or explain what’s going on with me. From there, if someone’s outward manifestation is a problem, it’s much easier to tweak, since it’s not loaded with the added emotional weight of misinterpretation.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Lolita: Rules Can’t Balance Out Insecurities

Lolita, leatheryenta.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I now have less rules with my partners. Rules can’t balance out my insecurities. Instead I have become more self-confident and less controlling. If somebody is an asshole, they will be an asshole with or without rules.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I have not opened up my relationships. They start out open and stay open. I would not do it any other way.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I trust my partner. I don’t worry. Having no worries is very liberating.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There is no such thing as TMI between us. Sometimes it is tough to tell my partner things, but after it’s out in the open, it’s so much better.

Protected: Edge

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Photos from the Dirty Queer Sex Tour: Dallas

I’ve gone all over the country in the past year to promote the anthology I edited, Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica. In November, Kristen and I were in Dallas for Thanksgiving and Lillith Grey helped me to produce an incredible lineup at Ver Les.

Amy Price took photographs, and they are pretty amazing. It was quite a rockstar lineup and it was in fact so successful that Lillith has decided to create an ongoing erotica series! Check out Panty Raid on Facebook for more details.

The Dirty Queer Sex Tour: Dallas Edition featured live music by Ashely Boucher, and erotica readings by Lillith Grey, Kasson Marroquin, Cheyenne Cartwright, Artemis Rose, Morgan la Fae, and CD Kirven.

Thanks so much to everyone who was there last night, to Lillith and all the readers, for making it an excellent celebration. I still aim to do a couple more Say Please readings in 2013, and I hope to have a new book project with Cleis press soon, so certainly you can expect more of me in your city in the future.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Jack: Ridiculously Hot Kink & Sex

Jack Stratton, writingdirty.com

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

Ask for what you want and help your partner understand your attraction.

One of the main of causes of the negative aspects of jealousy is your partner(s) filling in what they don’t know about your desires/partners with their own worries, fears, and self-consciousness. Be upfront about what you want and why you want others. I find it a lot easier to get into that lovely compersion zone when I understand my partner’s attraction. I don’t have to share in it, but often I do, since my primary and I are somewhat similar.

Know that people want different amounts of information and different types of information and sometimes they are not going to know exactly what they want right away. You have to communicate a lot. You have to communicate about how you want to communicate.

Keep discussion and negotiation as fun as possible. Remember that you are not brokering a business transaction, you are figuring out how to get your desires and your partners desires met (and exceeded) while keeping everyone happy.

Reinforce each partners’ specific special place in your life and in your heart. Keep certain things sacred to certain partners.

It’s okay to to give your primary veto power.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

Learning when to talk about what. I tend to worry about talking and negotiating if my partner is in a bad mood or busy. Sometimes that has bitten me in the ass because I end up talking to them too late or too close to a date or something. Timing is the toughest for me.

Asking for what I want. It means knowing what I want and understanding what I want.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

The rush of meeting new people mixed with the joy of stable long term relationships. Swooning over people and watching my partner swoon over someone. Getting all tangled up in mutual attraction and three way attraction and so on. Having crushes all the time and being able to follow them through as much or as little as I like.

Ridiculously hot kink and sex.

No guilt ever.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Google Calendar. Google Calendar. Google Calendar. It is the most useful thing in the world for poly people. Knowing who is doing what, when, and where but me and my partners at ease. Also, you can look and if you see something you’re not sure about you just drop a little note. “Who is Lisa again?” I love it.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Dire: Relationship Resilience (and Sexual Variety)

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

Don’t give more of yourself than you’re capable of giving. There have been a number of situations in my open relationship which have made me very uncomfortable, but I felt as though I shouldn’t feel that way for one reason or another, and so I would say I was okay with whatever the issue was and hoped that I would eventually become comfortable. I didn’t, and, in fact, it only got worse until it reached the point where I would consistently be reduced to tears and laden with anxiety. Both individuals have to develop and evolve together, and expanding the open aspects of the relationship need to be guided by the least open/comfortable person, not the most.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

The hurting. It is inevitable that at some point both individuals in the open relationship will get hurt. Whether it’s jealousy, misunderstandings, insecurities, STD scare, or any number of other issues, being part of an open relationship exposes you to a plethora of tribulations and pain that will need overcoming. Overcoming being hurt isn’t possible — which is important to remember when considering your ROI vs cost — but you can address each issue as it arises (or before, if you can foresee it) to minimize future hurting.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

I won’t lie, the sexual variety has been pretty fantastic, but I suspect that’s the more obvious benefit, so instead I would say the resilience of our relationship. My mate’s brother once asked him, after discovering that we were open, if he was worried that I might leave him for someone I was having sex with. His answer was, “No, because if our relationship is so bad that it can be ended by good sex, then it wasn’t good in the first place.” Because we’ve expanded our sexual experiences as a couple to involve other people, we’ve removed an emotional weak point that is often exploited in traditional couples.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

  • Don’t sleep with your roommate(s).
  • Never compromise your morals, convictions, or safe practices for anyone.
  • Remember that the health and emotional wellbeing of you and your mate is paramount.
  • Don’t use an open relationship to fill the gaps in your current relationship, or to transition to a new person.
  • Don’t have sex with a lot of people just because you can. An open relationship isn’t an invitation or an obligation to be promiscuous.
  • Don’t use an open relationship as a way to compete with your mate sexually. If you’re having vindictive or equalizing sex, you’re gone astray.
  • Always be completely open with your mate. This will save you so much strife.
  • Always play safe.
  • Remember to put your relationship first, and playing with others somewhere down the list.
  • Be mindful of playing with people who are, for one reason or another, emotionally vulnerable. Don’t play will people who will get attached, or angry for one reason or another, or jealous, or otherwise be unable to handle being part of your open relationship. This will take some practice, but trust your gut and learn from your mistakes.
  • An open relationship isn’t accountable to anyone but those in it with regards to what you’re comfortable with. Just because other couples or individuals are comfortable with something, that doesn’t mean you need to, or that your open relationship is somehow inferior to theirs, even if you never become comfortable with a given practice. Whatever you and your mate are comfortable with in any given moment is what’s right for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that moving more or less open.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Rory: Special Treat Lovers

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I don’t know if I would have done things any differently if I had known the following things. Perhaps I would have been more realistic in my hopes and desires. And not so long ago, knowing all these things, I entered into a trio with my mate and another woman – wanting it to be different, ignoring all the warning signs that I was headed down a familiar path.

In my experience, a woman might start out feeling ok about having a part time relationship with my mate. And often, the more she is in love, the more time and emotional demands she makes. At some tipping point (different in every relationship) that is likely to become uncomfortable for me.

Many people want a full time partner. My current life mate likes me to hang out with him and his other lovers. I am better at making space, especially if another woman and I don’t connect well or have had a falling out. If I do hang out, I often feel most of my mate’s attention is going to the newer lover and I see no point in me being around.

On the other hand – while I appreciate my lovers being friendly and respectful of each other – I like to spend most of my time with a special treat lover apart from my mate, unless we’re all lovers.

I can’t seem to keep a sexual relationship with a woman going longer than 6 months, unless it’s long distance. Intimate / platonic friendships with women are way easier and longer lasting for me.

Many people are judgmental of the life style.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

N/A. I haven’t opened a relationship that started out closed. My first lover and I read the Harrad Experiment. It made sense to us. We were 16 and it was 1970. We did the best we could – which meant he was open to me being with woman, and couldn’t handle me connecting with men. We were together 15 years. I have been in completely open relationships since. (Except for some months when my mate agreed not to take a new lover at the request of another lover.)

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

While in that first long relationship, I got to explore a little with women. Next came some years of busting out – lots of playmates and a steady guy. Now, I share my home / life with a man I connected with more than 20 years ago. I still have the freedom to explore with other people – from ongoing relationships with people I care for deeply, to experimenting with someone I am curious about. I’ve had plenty of encounters I could have skipped, so I am picky these days – and it’s still important to me to have the freedom to connect with someone new, or a lover who comes round again when the time is right.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

A question – any response to my musings?

Open Relationship Mini Interview with TP: Dating is Hard

TP

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

First and foremost, I wish I had known how much love I would find and conversely how much hate I would find. It feels so natural but I feel as though we are looked down upon not only by the right, but also among many in the gay community who feel we distract from thier cause. As soon as those on the right attack gay marriage saying the next step is legalizing polyamorous marriages, we say why not? Many gay rights advocates turn on a dime and throw us under the bus.

I always thought we would see some converse support for our cause after theirs however I see this to not be the case. See also the recent statement from Dan Savage. In the way he addressed polyamory initially, it almost seemed to discount the experience entirely. He did recover nicely printing responses from other voices he respected. I must also say that I do appreciate his writing for the most part anyways.

I wish I would have known/remembered how hard dating is.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Two Words: Time Management. This is probably not what you were looking for but arranging time with our honeys is hard. Really hard. We have to cover for each other in watching the kids and often times we have to facilitate each others dates, we even sometimes buy each other condoms and other items in preparation for each others dates. Balance can be hard unless we are forcefully intentional about it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The freedom to explore our fantasies with other people that we have not been able to experience for ourselves. I am circumcised. In a monogamous relationship my wife could never honestly experience giving falacio to a man with an uncut penis let alone riding him. But with our open relationship she can experience many different kinds of penises, and the concept follows for me with other people. It opens up a brave new world.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Marie: Keep Loving

Marie

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That each person is an individual. There are no hard fast rules on polyamory. One must work out the parameters of the relationships based upon their own merits and not on rules given by friends or experts.

I am in a bi-amorous situation myself, and my husband has 2 girlfriends and me. His girlfriends are married to other men.

I am married and about a year ago started dating a friend whom I left over a decade before, for my husband. I was also in a relationship at the time with a third man, which was not working out well, but I did not leave him right away.

I nearly did not have a chance at a relationship with my old friend due to some established polyamory rules I’d heard and read that a secondary partner (and we take issue with the term “secondary”, but I’ll leave it here for clarification purposes) should not have a say in possible tertiary partners. We worked it all out, but the “rules of polyamory”, as I’d heard them, were a major source of trouble in the beginning. To this day, my lover does not consider himself polyamorous, as he is monoamorous with me.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing has been time management and scheduling. Time is definitely the enemy. I wish to be with both of my men more and also to have a life of my own. It’s my own life that is suffering the most from lack of time attending to it.

My husband has made similar sacrifices for his ladies.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I have the man back whom I love so much, from before I met my husband. And I didn’t have to shatter my world apart and leave my wonderful husband to get him back.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Keep communication open. Realize that people need to enjoy their new relationship energy. Keep loving those whom you love and remind them of this always.

Inner Emotional Landscapes and the Sublimity of the West

“Emotional landscapes / They puzzle me / Confuse …” Bjork sings in “Joga.” This has long been one of my favorite songs.

I am in love with the western United States, the pacific northwest in particular. If you followed my column on Eden Fantasys about my love affair with New York City, Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend, you may remember that I also wrote often about visiting Seattle or San Francisco or other cities and my ongoing draw to being out west.

There are amazing things about living in New York City, like the Public Square and the community and the lack of bullshit and the lack of people offering you sliding scale energy work when you’re crying on the subway, and in a hundred ways, New York has been the diamond I’ve cut and formed my adult self against. Not a lot of things have been hard enough for me to form against—Seattle certainly wasn’t. I wanted something more.

But the actual geographic land over here … has never quite been enough for me. I drive outside of New York City and into the Adirondacks or the Catskills—places people call mountains over here but that I tend to call “mountains” or, more accurately, hills—and into the rolling baby green hills of pastoral New England, and I can’t really separate the cliche picket fences and porches and quaint mailboxes with this puritanical moral ideal of the nuclear family, sexual shame, and policed gender roles.

The west, though … the Rockies … I have such a different relationship with the earth when I’m over there, when I’m looking at towering peaks on my morning commute, when I see the canyons and the deep green forests, the earth cut by water and carved out by glaciers. I feel so much more at home, so much more connected.

It’s in part because that is closer to my landscape of origin, that is closer to the drama of Southeast Alaska where I was literally created, birthed, and grew up.

But it’s partly something else, too. I think it’s partly because the grandeur, the sublimity of the west looks a lot more like my inner emotional landscape than the pastoral, serene east.

I talk about my “inner emotional world” or “emotional landscape” frequently. Lately, I’ve been talking about how many earthquakes it has endured, how much instability is in there now. Sometimes it helps to visualize the earth cracking apart, splitting, the magma of the earth spewing forth to destroy whatever structures I’ve put into place, like in that Joga video.

I like to talk about my emotional world in geographic metaphors. I’ve been deeply shaken this year. I’m still trying to clear the rubble and rebuild. A friend of mine recently said that she thinks the apocalypse—the impending end of the Mayan calendar, uh, tomorrow—actually is “all the hard stuff all at once” for everybody. It’s certainly true for me: the power dynamics in my life have dramatically shifted, my relationships have shifted, I woke up after a couple of months of being unconscious to find myself buried under a mountain of shit out of which I’m still trying to dig myself.

The sublime nature of the western United States matches my inner emotional landscape so much more than the east.

And if you’ll forgive the comparison, being out in the east feels incongruous almost in a transgender type of way—that my inner self does not match the outer surroundings, and I feel a serious disconnect. When the outer landscape matches my inner landscape, I feel integrated and whole in a much more comforting way.

Perhaps I should be aiming for more inner peace, inner calmness, such that the pastoral landscape surrounding me could be a goal, rather than a reflection. I don’t know about that. I’m a student of buddhism and tantra, and those lineages say that it’s not so much that I think our inner selves are peaceful, but that we separate our divine nature Self from the monkey mind self that is often chatter chatter chattering.

I don’t think a dramatic, sublime inner emotional landscape is bad. I think it’s real. I love being deeply in touch with emotions, experiences, divinity, the universe, energy, god, myself—whatever you want to label that. Lately, I have been incredibly reactive, moreso than I usually am, since my inner world has been such a disaster, but I usually have much more space between my reaction and my response, I usually have more control over my ability to respond, my response-aiblity if you will, and I am using all of my tools to lengthen the space between my reactions and my responses. (Meditation helps with that practice immensely.)

I’m getting better. Slowly waking up. Bringing myself back into alignment with these paths, my callings, my desires, following my goals, containing my time and energy and emotional landscapes. But I miss the west. I miss the mountains and valleys and deep lakes and rainforest. Sometimes I wish I was a better visual artist, that I could actually draw out an inner emotional landscape map, full of trails and paths and adventures, with maybe even a big X right over my heart to mark the treasure.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Cricket: Support

Cricket; general reference points: I identify as a butch genderqueer boi and I’m a student at a liberal arts college.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I can be a very controlling person at times – I am drawn to “help” or “fix” people even when that isn’t something they really want or need, and I depend on the people close to me to be bluntly honest and call me out when I try to take on responsibilities that aren’t mine to take or treat people like projects I need to get an A on. As a result, I’ve learned that it’s a very bad idea for me to commit to a person who has very few other support systems in their life, because I will attempt to guide and support them in everything, which is stressful for me and generally both emotionally uncomfortable and enabling for them, because then they don’t have to look for other sources of support or work on self care, and the stress I feel in trying to give too much support mainly serves to put stress onto them.

When I first got involved in an open relationship, I thought the fact that I was dating multiple people who were themselves also with other people would keep me from being anyone’s “one and only” and attempting to intensely overmanage their life. It turns out that is absolutely not the case. Regardless of the number of people I’m with or the level of commitment I have to them, I need to watch myself and work to manage my controlling tendencies. Don’t expect a shifted relationship model to turn you into a new person or magically erase unwanted traits or habits you display in monogamous contexts. Being someone’s lover/partner/term of your choice is a conscious process of interaction. Assuming you know what’s best for your partners without communicating and evaluating your own thoughts is a bad idea, whether you’re with one person or a dozen.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Everyone I’ve been with has exercised the dynamic of openness in a different way. We each have different degrees of comfort with being sexually or romantically close to other people, an different activities we’re generally drawn to. A fear of imbalance has definitely been present at times. When I’m close to people other than my primary partner, I sometimes worry that she’ll be jealous – not that other people are close to me, but that opportunities haven’t arisen for her to do the same kinds of things with others. This goes both ways – she’s expressed some jealousy that I’ve found a Dom friend who’s a willing play partner, while I’m jealous of her warmth and social acumen, and her resulting ability to initiate casual kisses and cuddles with friends in a way I seldom have the nerve to suggest. We aren’t jealous out of a sense that we own or possess each other, but when one of us has a positive experience outside our relationship dyad that the other desires, we are jealous from our own lack of access to the experience.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I am intensely grateful for the lack of shame. I know I’m capable of having monogamous relationships – I was in one for over three years – but when in it I felt a deep sense of shame around my own sexual and romantic feelings. I was attracted to and had crushes on other people. Even though I didn’t have any particular need or even an intense desire to act on those feelings, I felt ashamed. The simple act of finding other people attractive made me feel like a failure in my relationship, perverse and unable to control my desires. In my current relationship, which started out relatively monogamous, I was extremely clear and upfront about the fact that I would be attracted to other people while in the relationship. I wouldn’t act on those feelings without some serious pre-negotiation, but I would still feel them. As a result, even when the open elements of my relationship are not directly in practice, I feel far more secure in myself because I know I will never be vilified for finding others attractive. Knowing that not only my feelings but even actions associated with them are permissible is beautifully freeing. It is so good to have affirmation that I can care about someone, even love them deeply, without pledging exclusivity, and that having feelings for others does nothing to lessen the romantic commitments I have already established.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Not seeing the relationships you practice or desire represented in the media can seriously mess with your head. It gives you a sense that you aren’t meant to exist, and that you will never find community and acceptance. Without a group of close and caring friends, many of whom also practice various forms of non-monogamy, my relationship would feel far less comfortable and possible. I am also deeply lucky in that my parents don’t have a problem with the way I run relationships. I’m not out as poly/open to all of my extended family, but being able to tell my mom how awful I’m feeling after a breakup with someone other than my primary partner without facing judgment for simply attempting to run multiple relationships is something I am hugely grateful for.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with c.: There Are Lots of Ways To Do This

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I came into poly life in a little queer bubble, where being poly was sort of expected, and sort of the norm, and there were pretty intense social expectations around what that should look like. I wish I had known from the beginning that there are lots of ways to do this thing, and as long as you are honoring your relationships, feelings, partner(s), and self, it’s ok if your rules don’t look like other people’s rules, or you have feelings other people aren’t sharing.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

My current relationship is with someone who was generally monogamous before we got together, and I feel like the two of us have been generous and brave together in making up a set of rules and scripts to follow. Building your relationship from the ground up is scary and challenging, and there have been lots of times when our needs, expectations, feelings, and desires have bumped up against each other, or not fit together in any neatly arranged way. Pulling apart the mess of feelings that can happen when that comes up, and figuring out where everyone’s responsibility begins and ends can feel like playing cats cradle with spiderwebs. I’m still learning how to be gentle with myself and with him when things are hard. Living with ambiguity is wonderful and hard. Probably none of that is helpful concete advice. Times that have been the hardest for me are when I know that my partner is having some bad or uncomfortable feelings about a date I’m going on, or a person I have crushy feels about. I have to spend quite a bit of energy convincing myself that I’m not being cruel or unfair by pursuing those interactions with knowledge that he could feel badly as a result. Not taking total ownership for other people’s feelings is really hard, and can feel like doing harm to someone I love. It feels like a dangerous amount of trust to place on his word that he is in this with me with full knowledge of possible consequences and avid consent, despite the bumps and bad feels that sometimes come up. That trust is precious and rare and I treasure it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I love having crushes. I love flirting and blushing and and feeling sweet on people. Sharing those exciting feelings with my partner is just about the nicest. That crackly energy is good for me, and good for my relationship.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve been more and more interested recently in playing with other kinky queers (rather than pursuing more traditional “dates” with all sorts of humans), and this has provided really interesting opportunities to engage with other folks in sexy ways that are quite structured. These sorts of dates have been somewhat simpler to navigate with my partner because of the high level of pre-negotiaion that (for me, anyways) is such a fun part of planning a date or scene with someone. I’m excited about growing more connections with perverts!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Alex: It’s Okay To Have Feelings

Alex Bettencourt

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had come into the polyamory arena knowing it was okay for it a) not to work in every relationship, b) that it was okay to have feelings about my polyamory, and c) that it was okay NOT to be okay with my polyamory every single second. I think it’s a big fallacy that, when we are poly or open, we are okay with it one hundred percent of the time–that all our relationships are lined up well, are balanced, are in good working order, and that our feelings fall in line with that. I’ve found that such a delicate balance is usually not in play–someone might be feeling ignored or threatened by a new
partner, the time commitment isn’t there, your relationship is going through difficult changes, etc. I had to learn that it was not perfect all the time.

I wish I had known ahead of time how much work goes into poly arrangements–how much personal work, and how much interpersonal work. No poly arrangement is hatched fully formed without at least a little bit of growing pain somewhere, be it personally or in another relationship or whatever. I think it’s sometimes believed that, somehow, poly arrangements are LESS work than monogamous ones. I think they are equal work, or are work in different ways, with similar goals of having a functional, healthy relationship(s).

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I think my own insecurities have been the most difficult thing thus far, and I have not overcome them nor do I think I ever will. It’s a matter of managing them and addressing them as necessary, and doing the work on WHY they are insecurities and what I can do about them, with help from my partner(s) as necessary. I think that’s also a big fallacy in open and/or poly arrangements–that insecurities magically disappear and are never dealt with again.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The sense of personal freedom and validation. I feel like, being poly, I can bring all of myself to the table in ways I was not able to when I was trying to be monogamous. That’s not to say that monogamous people do not bring their full selves into their relationships–I just couldn’t. I feel like I can be transparent with who I am and with my needs and, if my partner(s) are not into something or can’t meet that need, I am free to go elsewhere to have that need met.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I feel like people believe that polyamory is kind of a better way than monogamy and I don’t think it’s true–I think they are just different animals and some people are suited to one or the other. There shouldn’t be judgement attached to the ways in which we are able to love.

This Week! Best Lesbian Erotica & the Lesbian Sex Mafia in New York City

I’ll be reading some erotica on Thursday night in the East Village with the Best! Lesbian! Erotica! reading at Drunken! Careening! Writers! that BLE series editor Kathleen Warnock runs.

And! Also! I’m still on the board of the Lesbian Sex Mafia, and Lee Harrington is teaching an amazing D/s class on Friday night at the GBLT Center. I’ll be running the workshop that night, doing the announcements and getting everyone settled to pay attention to Lee’s brilliance, and taking a lot of notes about D/s. I’ve been thinking a LOT about D/s lately, about protocols and rituals and rules and punishments … still thinking about ways to write about all the things I’ve been learning.

Meanwhile, here’s the details on the events in New York City Thursday and Friday.

Best Lesbian Erotica @ Drunken! Careening! Writers!

KGB Bar
85 E. 4th St.
NYC
7pm FREE

Rebecca Lynne Fullan
Sid March
…and special surprise guests!
with your hostess, Kathleen Warnock
copies of BLE ’13 will be available for sale

Our “special surprise guests” will be Sinclair Sexsmith and Lea DeLaria (eds of the last 2 editions), and they will be reading from their work!

Rebecca Lynne Fullan is a writer of various stripes, most of them human. She lives, writes, reads, and learns in New York City. This story is for her girlfriend, Charlotte, and written with special gratitude to the BMVCOE, who know about magic. Come visit her here: rebeccalynnefullan.wordpress.com.

Sid March is the disastrously queer daughter of Neptune, a gifted escape artist, and an excellent party planner. A nomadic being with half a dozen hometowns, Sid writes obsessively when no one is watching as a way to tame her insatiable Wanderlust.

Best Lesbian Erotica is published by Cleis Press, the largest independent queer publishing company in the United States. Kathleen Warnock is the series editor, and Jewelle Gomez selected and introduced this year’s collection.

Drunken! Careening! Writers! is a reading series based on the proposition that all readings should be by: 1) Good Writers; 2) Who read their work well; 3) Something in it makes people laugh (nervous laughter counts). And 15 minutes tops.

Lesbian Sex Mafia presents Beyond Bowed Heads: Rituals for Dominance and Submission with Lee Harrington

lesbiansexmafia.org

Rituals are a key part of any D/s relationship, whether we acknowledge them or not. From casual kisses as the door to formal slave poses, ritual objects such as collars to slave contracts, the BDSM world is rife with concepts of ritual- but what is a ritual? What are the levels of ritualistic interaction we have between one another? Let’s look at rituals for day to day life (including how to get out of work or parent space), sacred time, intense connection, erotic play, solidifying relationships, changes within our relationships, and the taboo subject of the devastating loss of a relationship or its natural end. From terminology to developing your own code of ethical interaction, this class covers a bevy of styles and types of interpersonal reactions.

Where: The LGBT Center, 208 West 13th St. (7th/8th Ave), New York, NY
Date/Time: Friday December 21, 2012, 8:00-10:00 PM. Our annual workshop at which all genders are welcome.
Cost: LSM Members: $5/Non Members: $10

About Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known spiritual and erotic educator, gender explorer, eclectic artist and award-winning author and editor on human sexuality and sacred experience. He is a nice guy with a disarmingly down to earth approach to the fact that we are each beautifully complex ecosystems, and we deserve to examine the human experience from that lens. He’s been traveling the globe (from Seattle to Sydney, Berlin to Boston), teaching and talking about sexuality, psychology, faith, desire and more, and has no intention to stop any time soon. He has been an academic and an adult film performer, a world class sexual adventurer, an outspoken philosopher, is a kink/bondage expert, and has been blogging about sex and spirituality since 1998.

His books include “Playing Well With Others: Your Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Negotiating the Kink, Leather and BDSM Communities” (with Mollena Williams), “Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond,” “Shibari You Can Use: Japanese Rope Bondage and Erotic Macramé,” the “Toybag Guide to Age Play,” and “Shed Skins: Journeying in Self-Portraits.” He has also worked as an anthology editor on such projects as “Rope, Bondage, and Power” and “Spirit of Desire: Personal Explorations of Sacred Kink,” while contributing actively to other anthologies, magazines, blogs and collaborations internationally. Check out the trouble Lee has been getting into, as well as his regular podcast, tour schedule, free essays, videos and more over at www.PassionAndSoul.com.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Deserthooker: More Confident, Self-Assured and Grounded

Deserthooker, @deserthooker

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had understood that relationships can take different courses than the traditional one. I struggled at first with how to navigate levels of intimacy and involvement because I was used to things always tending toward more enmeshment. Being a secondary was a completely new feeling for me, for example. I still seek deeper, more lasting relationships with my partners, but so far I’ve found that each relationship has to develop on it’s own path. Surprise surprise, not everyone wants to be married. And even more surprising, I don’t always want to be either.

The other thing I wish I understood more deeply was the “locus of control” concept when it came to boundaries. The difference between “I want you to do the dishes” and “I want the dishes done” is vast, and delicate, and understanding the difference has helped me through a LOT of difficult moments in poly.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

By far the hardest thing about opening my marriage has been navigating that while also dealing with my partner’s depression. We still struggle with that, sometimes on a daily basis. It is difficult to know what is a “real issue” and what was coming from the depressed place at times, for myself and for my partner. I’m a pleaser by nature, so I had to learn that not every problem can be fixed or even NEEDS to be fixed. I’ve also had to learn that just because someone is temporarily unhappy, that doesn’t mean I should change my plans or feel guilty for being happy myself. I had to learn to separate my partner’s happiness from my own. That remains the biggest challenge I face, both in poly and in life.

I would say the main thing that helps us through the upheaval of depression is our D/s dynamic. I act as anchor in a very stormy sea, and that helps us both stay on course. We have daily rituals, for example, that are said no matter how hurt/upset we are. Keeping my boundaries firm and clear also helps, as well as getting a LOT of down time and support. Also being sure that when things are good, we make the most of it. When a foundation gets rocked, it can always be rebuilt but I had to learn to let go of resentments and hurts and just enjoy the partner I have when I can.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I would say the best thing is the ability to truly open up to love the way I think I was always supposed to, but didn’t understand how. I always joke that I could fall in love with a lamppost. I love people. I spent a good quantity of time in life being used, my good nature and willingness to be there for others are easy to exploit. Well, they used to be, anyway. Being in an open relationship means I can integrate my natural tendency toward loving relationships into my life without hesitation. I am safe to explore whatever avenue may appear, rather than artificially limiting myself because of convention or societal expectation. At this point I have a network of wonderful, intelligent, loving people that I can count on to treat me with respect and love me as much as I love them.

Right along side that, I have learned how to navigate many relationships with better boundaries and respect for myself in place in a way I might never have if I’d stayed monogamous. I feel I’ve gained a few levels in the game of life since poly, and I feel more confident, self-assured and grounded than ever before.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that none of that good stuff would be possible without the support of my partners and dear friends who are the backbone of everything I’ve become in the last few years, and I’m so grateful for each of them.

And also that you’re a fantastic writer, and your journal entries have also been a wonderful way to access community for me, so thank you so much :D

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Miranda: Act in Your Own Self-Enlightened Best Interest

Miranda, On Fetlife

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

Reality. The first open relationship I was in wasn’t based in reality, it was based on one partner’s “vision” of what her fantasy world would look like. The reality is that every person’s relationship with someone else is different. Do I love my boyfriend or my cat more? Well… yes? I’d love to see my partners more often, but I know that’s not realistic, so I don’t worry about it. Also, acting in your own self-enlightened best interest. Do you want to be the most important person to all your partners? Of course, not! That would make their partners feel like crap, and the effects would snowball and mess everything up. You want your partners to have strong relationships with other people, because that comes back to benefit you later.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

That’s hard to say, because the relationships I’m currently in have been open from the beginning. Of course there’s jealously, mostly based on lack of self confidence, but with time that fades. Also, lack of teleportation.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Cookies! I showed up for an event once to find that my boyfriend’s girlfriend had a bag of cookies waiting for me, freshly baked. You know that you’re doing it right when everyone acts like a huge happy family! Don’t get me wrong, this takes a LOT of work, time, understanding and compassion. When it works, however, its amazing.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Being in an open relationship seems so natural to me now. Why wouldn’t I want to share my partner’s love? Why would I want to horde it all to myself and let no one else experience the joy that they have to offer? Also it is sometimes useful to say, “Darling, I’m really looking to be alone tonight, would you mind if I asked you to find someone else to cuddle with?”

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Gina Mink: Jealousy is Normal

Gina Mink

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had any insight at all, honestly. When you are bombarded all your life with a certain standard view of the world/relationships, any drifting outside the “norm” will present new challenges. I ran into it when I came out gay, I ran into it again when I started dating someone that was already in a primary relationship. The biggest hump for me was wrapping my mind around the fact that it wasn’t cheating.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

For me the hardest thing, at least in the beginning, was dealing with jealousy. As time has progressed and our relationship has gotten stronger … Well, I’d like to say that its non-existent, but I think a little jealousy now and again is normal for most people. the most important thing is I don’t let it get to me anymore — I know where I stand and what I have, and I don’t have a fear that someone is going to usurp my position or take that away.

Now, the most difficult thing is simply not having enough of her, but as it is sometimes unavoidable, I cope.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The best thing is my kitten can be a handful sometimes- I need help ;) But seriously, it has helped me grow I think, as just a person as well as a lover. Though these things could be simply *who* I’m dating, not a specific of the openness of our relationship.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

10 years ago had you told me where I’d be today, who I’d be with, and *how* I’d be with them … I never would have believed you. and then had you told me I’d be completely happy … Wow.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Tuesday: So Much Love

Tuesday

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I am one of those people who was born poly, monogamy is such a foreign concept to me. I don’t even understand it at all. What I wish that I had known was that the person I ended up marrying would suddenly expect monogamy with marriage and that we would spend the next 9 years rehashing our boundaries and trying to change fundamental beliefs in each other, it wasn’t pretty.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing was convincing my husband that it is possible to love more than one person, it took years of talk and and fights, and constant disclosure and 100% honesty about feelings and standing up for myself and what I need. But it’s been over 6 years now of happy poly, he is dating one of my very best friends now and I am with a woman who makes me the envy of everyone we meet because of the amount of love we share.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The best thing is that my kids have a huge support system, there is always an adult available to them, and I am able to get my needs met in the best ways and no matter how bad life gets I always know I have so much love. Love may not be all you need but it sure helps you get through the tough times.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There is nothing worse than fighting with more than one lover at a time, but besides those rare times, there is nothing more amazing than love multiplied. I often explain it to new friends that just because you have a second or third child it doesn’t mean you love that first baby any less, and it can be the same way with amorous love, you might even love your first even more for accepting you and wanting you to be happy no matter what, which is really what love should be all about.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Dani: Know Yourself & Respect Your Instincts

Dani, daninelson.com, okayokayigive.tumblr.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I’d want my teenage self to know that it’s really okay – and not weird – to feel happy when your lover and your friend fall in love with each other. That yes, you really can be dating one person, friends-with-benefits with a handful of others, and falling for that blonde chick…because they’re all okay with it too.

More importantly, though, because I came through that okay, all things considered – I’d tell my 20-something self (and anyone else who asked) that you need to know yourself – and respect your gut instincts – above and beyond anything else. There are different types of poly out there, and so many of them are just not right for you…and can make you as uncomfortable – if not moreso – than a monogamous relationship with a borderline abusive asshole. Be upfront and open and honest about what you really need.

Because that honesty? That leads to great things like rules about gorillas.

Finally, I’d tell my 30-something self that it really is possible to identify as poly and not be actively dating outside your main relationship. It doesn’t make you any less poly, or weird, or broken. It’s just that dating is not a priority, and that’s okay.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The relationship I’m in now started as open – it was never a question, or a point of negotiation, for either of us. In fact, I think all of the open relationships I’ve been in were like that – open, in one way or another, from the get-go, all cards on the table. I have been in a semi-closed multiple-partner relationship, however, and the hardest thing about that by far is that the rules that we agreed on were not necessarily the right thing for all of us. (See the note to my 20-something self above).

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The relationship I’m in now – with Meredith, who was interviewed earlier in this series – has been by far the strongest and best relationship I’ve ever been part of. Not because we’re still together or still in love or anything like that, but because we came into it with very specific requirements. We both knew what we wanted, and were strong enough to say “it has to be this way for me”. Fortunately, our needs were well-matched – and that includes a level of communication that I wish everyone could have.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Relationships are hard; that level of hardness goes up as you add people to the mix. Talk to each other. Be open and be honest with yourself and with each other. (With yourself most of all.)

And, to share a lesson that an ex taught me – even if you think you’re just sleeping together, or it’s just casual, there is a relationship there. It might not be a long-term relationship, or a deep relationship, but if you’re interacting with someone else, there is absolutely a relationship there. Relationships take time and energy and nurturing. (And communication.)

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Kyle: It Can All Change

Kyle Jones, www.butchtastic.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I assumed that there was ‘a way’ to do poly and that if I learned that method, everything would work out perfectly. What I learned was that there are as many ways to open up a relationship as there people doing it. I’ve also learned that it can all change – people change, their needs and circumstances change. When that happens, your approach to poly may need to change – temporarily or permanently. And, this one has been the hardest, a person can identify as poly at one point in their life and as monogamous at another point in their life. Even though I was strictly monogamous for the first 40 years of my life, it never occurred to me that a person could go the other direction. So I guess in the beginning, it might have helped to hear from someone with more experience that things can change, in all directions, and the best thing to do about that is to have really excellent and honest communication with your partners, and work on those while it’s easy, so you are more capable of communicating well and handling change when it comes.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

When my wife and I opened up our relationship, I knew I’d go through a period where it was hard to deal with her being with others. I was determined to work through that and I was lucky to have good friends to talk things through with. I also had someone I was seeing outside our primary relationship, so the NRE and excitement of that carried me through a lot of the more difficult initial stuff. What I wasn’t prepared for was the differences in how my wife and approach being poly, and how that would effect our relationship. I am truly polyamorous, I am happiest and healthiest when I love, and am loved by, multiple people at the same time. My wife comes from a ‘friends with benefits’ perspective. She is leery of and steers clear of people who are likely to develop a romantic love for her. This has been a source of conflict for us, as she has been very critical of my approach. When things get challenging in my other relationships, she has a tendency toward ‘I told you so’ comments, which I don’t take well. She would be much happier if I’d manage my other relationships the same way she does, but I’m not wired that way. This difference and conflict is not something I was prepared for and remains a source of stress between us, though not as much as in the beginning.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I’m not as angry, resentful or depressed as I was before we opened things up. Since I was looking to my wife to meet all my intimate relationship needs, when it became clear that some of my needs were not going to be met by her, I grew angry, resentful and depressed. Having the opportunity for other partners means I’m not angry with her for not being everything for me. As time went on, and I became interested in pursuing my interest in kink, it was really, really good to know I could, even though my wife has no interest in BDSM. Over all, I’ve learned a lot about my capacity to love and hold space for multiple people. I am a much better communicator now, I think I’m more empathetic and slower to judge. As time goes on, I am more gentle with myself, less likely to judge myself for emotions that are generally seen as negative – jealousy, fear of inadequacy, insecurity. Learning to recognize those reactions as valid and honest, learning to express and own them and learning to accept them with less judgement has been a very positive experience. Also, I’ve been learning the lesson that in order to do well in a relationship, to give to your partners, you have to make sure to give to yourself, too.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

When people say that communication is the key to successful polyamory, they are not just saying it because everyone else does. It is absolutely essential to continuously practice honest, open, sincere communication with all you partner with. But not only that, you need to practice it with yourself. Be honest about what you need and what and expect from the relationships you are in. If you find yourself giving up on your needs and wants, that is a warning sign. You need to be very careful about giving up your needs in order to make things easier with a partner. That road leads to resentment, insecurity, depression and a breakdown in the relationship. If you’re not happy and feeling good about the relationship, you’re not going to do a great job in it. Self-sacrifice has its place, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not having a relationship based on equality and balance.

The things that make good relationships between primary partners, make good relationships between all partners. Since everyone will naturally have different expectations and assumptions about relationships, discussing those assumptions and expectations — not just once, but regularly — is a core part of healthy poly. Expect change, come up with strategies for handling change, both within yourself and with your partners. Don’t assume you know what’s going on, ask, listen, ask some more. Cultivate friendships with poly knowledgeable people who aren’t partners so you have friends to go to for feedback, or just to safely rant about things. Realize that for most people, jealousy, fear, competitiveness, feelings of insecurity — emotions we tend to judge as negative — don’t just go away when you’re poly, people who are poly aren’t less likely to experience those emotions.

Now, if you want to ask about long distance poly relationships, that’s gonna generate a lot more paragraphs :-)

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Rife: “I Hear You”

Rife, www.thegenderbook.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

The guilt is normal, you don’t need to let it hold you back. Stand up for your needs and desires. Be more honest than you’re comfortable with. Learn to not take it personal when you contribute to someone else’s hurt. You are responsible for your feelings, they are responsible for theirs. Be kind. Listen. Wait until they’re done crying to ask what’s wrong. Repeat after me: I hear you. When they ask how the date went, start with the general “Fine, we watched a movie” and slowly ramp up to the particulars, “…the acting sucked so we ended up making out the whole time.” Watch for a glazed look. That’s your cue to shut up. Reassure them every chance you can get. You cannot do this enough.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I’ve never gone through the process of opening a relationship that was monogamous. I imagine it’s very tricky. The hardest thing about maintaining an open relationship has been keeping an open mind about how it can serve me best, being flexible with what that might look like, and gently shifting structures as needed to accomodate that.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

That same flexibility I talk about being the hardest. A thing can be both. Runners-up include: the freedom to chase and be slutty and explore other aspects of my kinky self, as well as the lovely explicitness and clarity and customizable nature of making your own agreements.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

That same thing everyone says about having babies: it’s hard, but it’s worth it. With a weary sleepless smile.

Polyamory Questionnaire

Have you been excited about the open relationship mini-interview series so far? I’m really loving reading all this good stuff, listening to people’s breakthrough moments, having little windows into lives where this works.

I just ran across this Polyamory Questionnaire, too, so I figured I’d pass it on to y’all in case you feel inspired to contribute.

This survey is the beginning of an ongoing research effort to gain information about the community of individuals who engage in consensual, nonexclusive intimate relationships, or who are philosophically open to doing so, regardless of their current relationship configuration. We undertake this effort in order to better understand this community, its beliefs, practices, and desires, as well as its position within the larger mosaic of humanity.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Molly: Boundaries & A Reassurance List

Molly Malone, www.naughtymollymalone.com & naughty_molly

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

In the two years that I have had open relationships, my greatest insight has been around *yawn* boundaries. What they are, how they work, what they look like, feel like, what purpose they serve, and so on.

When I first observed open relationships, and started reading up on polyamory, I found that this word ‘boundaries’ was bandied about, and given a kind of importance, that looking back, I just didn’t understand. If I’m honest, I never really got it. Once I began to embark on opening up my own relationship, I would talk about my boundaries and other people’s boundaries, as if I had significant understanding of what that meant. I didn’t have a clue.

I truly wish I did. I wish I hadn’t assumed that I should know. I thought they were somehow supposed to just protect me, and other people, like a shield, just by saying they were there, and promising to respect other people’s. I kind of knew I probably didn’t have that quite right. In reality, I must’ve known that there are no such words in our language that have a special magic ability to protect people, like a spell. But I was too embarrassed to ask, and for a long time, being ignorant didn’t have any adverse effects, so I didn’t think it could be that important. So I never really questioned it, until, of course, everything was in a big messy tangled pile and I thought ‘Oh dear, how did I get here?’

I tried so hard to be the fixer. I felt a massive weight of responsibility for a sticky situation. I denied the people I cared about the responsibility to deal with their stuff by intentionally taking it on. And I did this in my home. My home was the base for a polymess. That was when I had a bolt out of the blue, when my very first boundary came to me, and I knew, that whatever was happening, and however sad I was for all of us involved, it was no longer going to be worked out in my home. That I needed my own safe space to escape to when it all got too much. That it wasn’t my responsibility to create a space for us to all work this out, and that it was ok to stop it. That very moment, I clearly and calmly expressed that boundary, and who knew, from that point on, we didn’t use my home any more for our meetings/arguments/counselling etc.

Since then, I have discovered a few boundaries’, and managed to employ them with varying degrees of success. It’s all a bit of a learning minefield, and you just don’t know about the lesson until it blows up under foot. It’s still a word I have to remind myself the meaning of. And when I discover a new one, or spend time thinking about what other boundaries I have, I often wonder if this thing I have invented really exists, until one is crossed, and I feel like my land has been trespassed. Yup, they really exist. I now know what they are (although they metastasise often), what they feel like when they are working, and when they’re not.

What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I feel like I haven’t had the ‘proper’ test yet; the person who I was with before I discovered polyamory, I am still with now. We are engaged to be married. This man and I began our relationship under the presumed and customary norms and traditions – one of those of course being “I will not, to the best of my ability, fuck anyone else, or fall in love with anyone else, whilst we are together”. And although we both were already questioning this norm when we met each other, we had not yet gone the whole hog and decided to open up our relationship. That came a year later.

Since then, although there has been a healthy dose of sex and play outside of the relationship, only I have formed a loving, meaningful connection with someone else (and the amazing new-love sex that comes with it). He is yet to fall in love with someone else, and I am yet to know if that will be hard for me or not.

That’s not to say things haven’t been hard.

For me, there have been two areas of difficulty. The first has been negotiating the new relationship. In this instance, the person I wanted a relationship with was in a relationship with my friend, formed under the same conditions as my primary relationship – with all the presumed wisdom of monogamy. The new relationship was formed slowly, over a twelve month period, and was done, for want of a better phrase, by the book. As our new relationship blossomed, their pre-existing relationship crumbled. Their relationship has since ended.

Traversing the many challenges that brought was exhausting and most definitely hard. Initially I tried to fix everything, to take responsibility for their relationship and the problems they were facing as a couple. All the while taking on guilt and shame. It was, and still sometimes is, very difficult to learn how to distinguish between what was my responsibility, and what wasn’t. Being able and willing to hold my friend, in her pain, whilst not taking on guilt or resentment, was exceptionally hard.

Subsequently, having the courage of my convictions can feel hard. I sometimes feel like I have to defend myself, my choices and my actions. When this situation is viewed from a normative context, it looks like this: You fancied your mates girlfriend, they broke up, and you started going out with your mate’s bird… some friend you are! So I think what is hard about this is not having a group of supportive peers. Choosing an ‘alternative’ relationship paradigm sometimes feels isolating because of that. It can be hard to ask for support from friends and family, when first you have to have that conversation. There is fear and vulnerability mixed up in there somewhere – that I won’t be heard, that my feelings will be discounted or invalidated by my peers because I’m being ‘greedy’ choosing more than one lover, that the inevitable question will be “But what about your friend? And what about your fiancé? Aren’t you hurting them?” And I will have to answer “Yes, sometimes they feel hurt, or sad, or jealous. But I’m ok with that, and their pain is not my responsibility, and we talk about this stuff, we have procedures in place to help us through those bits” and it all just sounds like lefty liberalism that is doomed for failure. It’ll be met with the same suspicious eye-roll that my mother gave me when I was a rebellious youth, with that “don’t come crying to me when it all blows up in your face” tone of voice.

A different challenge has been realising, for the first time, that falling in love when you are polyamorous, feels just the same as falling in love when you are monogamous. For some reason I was under the impression that with all these new fancy words, and emotional maturity, and books, that if I fell in love with someone else, I would be somehow immune to all the stupid, crazy, indulgent, ecstatic loonyness that falling in love traditionally inspires.

How foolish of me! It has been quite difficult to come to terms with the fact that I have responsibility to my other relationship. And as great and exciting as new love energy is, and as positive as its effects can be on pre-existing relationships, it is not an excuse, or get out card, for suddenly dropping all your commitments, to your relationship, or anything else for that matter (job, exercise-class, pet, house) and spending every waking minute talking to/fucking/staring at your new love. That’s been hard. We have overcome that by implementing quite a structured framework for seeing each other. We see each other once a week and we see each other somewhere mutual (not in my home, not in hers).

I also spent some time with my fiancé creating a Reassurance List, which is a list of things which I can do to reassure him when he needs it, and vice versa (like taking a bath together, doing some gardening, solving a household DIY problem together etc).

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Back even before we opened our relationship to others, both my fiancé and I felt that one person could not possibly be all things, to one person, at all times. For me, one of the best things about being able to form meaningful connections with more than one person is just that! I get to explore connections with people without the limit or restriction or fear of developing ‘feelings’ for them. We are multifaceted creatures, different people bring out different sides to our personalities, and we have diverse and changeable requirements. It feels logical, like it makes sense, it enables me to explore the dimensions of myself in a way that I couldn’t with one closed relationship. I remember, way back in adolescence, peers debating over which stage of a relationship was better; the crazy new-love with all its uncertainty and excitement, or the comforting long-haul with it’s predictability and reassurance? I remember thinking, shit! Do I have to choose? I like them both! And the answer was no, I don’t have to choose.

I would also say that the extraordinary level of self-development, of turning yourself inside out, examining the contents, and putting it all back together, is an invaluable process of embarking on non-monogamy. But also, the sex. I have always been attracted to boys and girls. I like having heteronormative sex, with a boy, with his penis in my vagina, but I also like having girlie lesbian sex, I also enjoy genderless sex, and gender reversed sex, I like submissive sex, and dominant sex, and switchy sex. I like having sex with my cock, I like sex with men who identify as gay, I like sex with myself, I like group sex. My fiancé is a heterosexual, cis gendered male. Thus he cannot fulfil all my sexual wants and needs. Although it’s a bit of a carnal and sexually obsessed answer, that’s probably the best thing about our open relationship. Not having to choose or value one type of sex over another and stick with it for life.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Sara Eileen: They Shouldn’t Be This Hard All the Time

Sara Eileen, @saraeileen

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

My first few open relationships were, in retrospect, fairly awful. In one (my very first) a husband and wife team had the very bad habit of communicating different rules to me about the same interaction, without talking to one another first. In another my partner was monogamous, and had a guilt complex about being monogamous. In a third (by far the worst, and also my longest relationship to date) we dealt constantly with passionate, rage-filled jealousy, almost all from his side.

At no point in any of these relationships did I question identifying as polyamorous; it’s a part of my identity that has always felt extremely stable and sensible. But when I was starting out I heard frequently that poly relationships “take more work” and “are just harder and that’s the way it is” and to some degree I’d internalized that. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her that yes, relationships are absolutely hard work, but they shouldn’t be this hard all the time. My more recent experiences with open relationships have been easier, more loving, and much happier, and have taught me that while it’s critically important to work with my partner and communicate well together, those past relationships had problems that extended far beyond our failing aspirations toward healthy polyamory.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing about being open in my current relationship has been trying to find new individual partners while sharing much of the same dating space and opportunities. I would call that less hard and more confusing; we are both interested in pursuing new partners, both a little (or a lot) awkward about dating and approaching new people, and tend to stick together in social situations within our shared community. I think that when one of us decides to date with more dedication we will probably solve this problem by literally separating ourselves into different dating spaces, but at the moment we’re very entwined with one another and we’re trying to navigate that in all of its lovely and sometimes incredibly awkward glory.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The best thing about my relationship is that my partner is amazing for me, and I’m fairly certain that the feeling is mutual. The best part about my relationship being open, and capably open, is that it feels like a good, healthy space to occupy with someone I love. It is literally the only way I could see myself in a primary relationship with another person, so perhaps the best thing about being in an open relationship is simply that we are. We found one another, we’re happy, this makes sense for us. That’s pretty great.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’ll forgive the extended metaphor, I’ll share something I wrote to a friend recently when trying to explain my ideas of a poly partners bill of rights:

Imagine that having a relationship with a person is like taking a walk with them. In poly, you’re agreeing to take multiple walks with different people at the same time; some of them are short, sweet walks that only last a night, while others are long, committed walks that could last your entire life.

Now imagine that communication is the material that makes your road wider. People who communicate clearly and honestly with one another about everything that’s important to them, and who use that communication to make agreements about how they will each take other walks as well as the one they share, have laid out a nice, wide road to walk on. It lets them run around and be playful and try new things, all on the security of that wide open, solid space. The width of your road is not measured by the number of words you exchange; it’s measured by the confidence, trust and clarity provided by those words.

People who don’t communicate with one another about their expectations, feelings and roles are walking a narrow path; it’s possible to walk it, but the littlest breeze can come along and tip one or both of them over into a ditch. Our roads change size as we go through each relationship; something wide and solid at the beginning can become increasingly narrower until both people fall off, or vice versa.

These walks cross over one another as different people in one’s life meet one another. Narrow paths can be widened by meeting wide roads. Narrow paths that cross often leave room for no one to get by. Wide roads that meet one another have plenty of space for everyone to get what they need. And, most critically, everyone has the right to decide how wide of a road they need.

Also thanks for doing these interviews; they’ve been fascinating so far!

BUTCH Voices Community Conversations in San Francisco & Boston

Community Conversation in San Francisco

BUTCH Voices presents our first Community Conversations event happening on December 15th, co-sponsored by the Queer Resource Center at City College San Francisco.
Capacity is limited to 60 attendees. So RSVP today. No cost to attend.

RSVP with your name and contact information via email: registration@BUTCHVoices.com

Saturday, December 15, 2012
10am-3pm
at City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Avenue
Co-sponsored by BUTCH Voices & City College’s Queer Resource Center

Schedule:
10:00am -10:30am Welcome
10:30am – 12:00pm Session 1
12:00pm -1:00pm Lunch on your own
1:00pm – 2:30pm Session 2
2:30pm-3:00pm Wrap up

Community Conversation in Boston

BUTCH Voices presents our Community Conversations event happening on Saturday, February 16th, co-sponsored by ButchBoi Life and Boston University’s Queer Activists Collective.

Capacity is limited to 50 attendees, so RSVP today. No cost to attend.

RSVP with your name and contact information via email with Boston in the subject line to: registration@BUTCHVoices.com

Location:
Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at Boston University
775 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
Date: February 16th
Time: 9am – 5pm

*Accessibility information for the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism *

For handicap accessibility, there is an elevator down to the basement of the student union where the Center is located.

Public transit and parking:
The nearest T stop (the Boston transit system) is BU Central on the B branch of the green line. Parking is available on the street, but all other lots require permits, so it can be tough to find a spot.

About the Community Conversations

Folks have enjoyed our regional and national conferences and asked for more BUTCH Voices events in their towns. We’re looking to help make those happen where we can. In our ‘off time’ from producing our National Conference, we’re holding Community Conversations in various cities across the United States and Canada.

While our regional and and national conferences are open to all, these Community Conversations are specific to folks who identify as butch, stud, and other masculine of center identities – in order to hold space for each other and foster ways to connect and build community. As always, as an organization we do not make the distinction as to who fits those identities, we leave that up for individuals to decide for themselves.
Topics will be generated by the individuals and groups who attend. We expect regional differences to affect which subjects, philosophies, and concerns each group will focus on. Our goal is to have 20-50 people attend each Community Conversation gathering, and we hope to encourage dialog, connection, and networking as we gear up for next year’s 2013 BUTCH Voices National Conference.

In conjunction with the Community Conversations we are also producing fundraisers for BUTCH Voices. Funds will be split between local organizers to assist their attendance at the National BUTCH Voices conference and with BUTCH Voices National.

We are currently working on Community Conversations and fundraising events in, though not limited to, the following cities: San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Portland OR, Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas. As cities and dates become available we will announce them here on the BUTCH Voices website, and get the word to you just as soon as we can. Be sure to sign up for our updates and e-newsletters to stay in the know about all things BUTCH Voices here. www.BUTCHVoices.com

If you are interested in being involved in hosting, fundraising, or coordinating a Community Conversation in your city, contact BUTCH Voices outreach at volunteers@BUTCHVoices.com.

Also! Save the Date – BUTCH Voices 2013 National Conference – August 15-18 in Oakland, CA. Registration and calls for submissions and performers coming soon

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Meredith: Six Happy Rules

Meredith, and I suppose you can link people to my soundcloud, http://soundcloud.com/braindouche and share my pretty, pretty music, described as good to take drugs and/or write novels to.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That rules are highly overrated. In the beginning, I tried to control problems by adding rules, structure and boundaries, and it failed every time. Now, my relationship of 9 years trundles along very happily with 6 rules:

1. Call if you’re not coming home. (Because the partner wakes up in the middle of the night quickly, but rational responses to things come online much more slowly.)
2. When you do come home, tell me about it. (Because we’re both voyeurs.)
3. Be safe.
4. A gorilla must be prominently displayed in the living area at all times.
5. Don’t fuck her clients. (Was “don’t fuck the clients” when we shared a business. Now we run separate businesses, and anyway, this rule was temporarily suspended for a while.)
6. If you don’t feel like you can tell me something, come talk to me.

For a long time, it was just those first three rules, but as they all do, the rulebook expanded.

I also didn’t expect to come to the conclusion that I really, really *hate* dating, which presents an unexpected and interesting challenge.

Oooh, another good one, relationships don’t need to be symmetrical to be fair. My relationship with my partner has been open since day one, but she’s only ever “taken the option” to date someone else once, and briefly at that. (Twice, if you count that thing that happened at that party we went to, years ago.) I’m much sluttier than she is, and generally just more interested in dating, so I’ve been far more active outside of our relationship. We’re perfectly content to do it this way. A lot of people think it looks odd from the outside, or negative, or wonder if I’m lying or really cheating, and I see where they’re coming from and genuinely appreciate their concern. We just have somewhat different priorities, and go with it. (And we’re independent like that with everything, not just our sex lives. The joke is that I had to take her to my friends’ wedding this summer just to prove that she a) existed and b) wasn’t chopped up in my freezer. My friends have dark senses of humor.)

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

For what it’s worth, I’ve only been in one non-open relationship. There wasn’t anything to overcome, I just, yanno, did it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Oh, all the typical warm and fuzzy marriage crap, that it’s great to have a teammate who knows all your plays, and other goofy metaphors. Compersion is pretty damn awesome, too, but it’s not a thing that’s limited to non-monogamous relationships. They just don’t know there’s a word for it.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There needs to be a term for people who are poly, non-mono, or otherwise in open committed relationships who, for whatever reason, don’t date or actively seek out other relationships or sex partners. It describes my relationship with my partner, and I’ve met scores of perfectly happy people who would welcome a compatible cutie falling out of the sky into their bed, but otherwise simply can’t be arsed to go out and discover other new cuties actively. The word “lazy” gets thrown around a lot.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Mysty: Advanced Relationship Studies

Mysty Mayhem, Women Writing the Weird

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It’s ok not to have the answers. My husband and I joke now that we are in Advanced Relationship Studies, and that when we began exploring 13 years ago we were in Relationships 101. It’s definitely a learning experience and should be treated as such. The opportunities for growth are endless, but you have to be willing to admit failure and learn from mistakes. There is no “right” way to be in an open relationship. You have to find what works for you and your partners. Also, communication communication communication.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

We have been open since the beginning, really. When he and I started dating, I had a grrlfriend and I was very honest about my desire to be physically with other people than him. He was raised in middle class white America with the model for Leave it to Beaver in his home life, so he was somewhat resistant at first. I was (and am) unapologetically Queer. Open communication was the key to our success. I don’t gloss over my needs and wants, I try to be very transparent. This helped him to understand not only WHAT I wanted, but WHY I wanted it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Building strong bonds with so many fabulous people, having a large, loving, caring support system to share my life with, learning more and more about my primary partner, growing emotionally, mentally, and sexually in ways that would have been impossible in a mono relationship. And the sex :)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Sugarbutch fucking rules. That is all.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Del: Freedom & Power

Del, sexgodsrockstars.wordpress.com

Before I start answering your questions, I should probably warn you that I’m not only a verbose writer, but that I have done a lot of navel gazing and processing around polyamory. I started having open relationships pretty early, when I was a freshman in college. It happened naturally, rather than having read one of the poly books or a Loving More magazine; I was dating a girl who wanted a threesome with her ex boyfriend for her birthday, and after hashing the whole situation out, it turned into a triad relationship. Once I was able to wrap my brain around dating two people at once, and it felt so natural to me, that any attempts at monogamy after that always went awry. In some ways, I think my romantic brain wiring was permanently changed by being in an open relationship that started and ended well, and now it’s monogamy that feels awkward and hard to navigate.

Also, I notice that your questions are based on an assumed trajectory – that the people involved started out as a monogamous dyad who mutually decided to pursue an open relationship. This is a fairly typical entry point to polyamory, but it’s not the only one. Some of these questions are hard for me to give a straight answer to, since currently my relationship structure is not one where I have a single primary partner in a spousal-type relationship and then additional relationships outside of that one. Instead, I have a bevy of radically different relationships with different levels of commitment and interaction, and no one person is more important or gets more priority than the others. I’ll attempt to answer your questions based on having had done the “dyad-gone-open” model, and then add some insights from my current model.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It took me quite a long time to figure out the one thing about living a polyamorous lifestyle that I adore the most: because you no longer have to ascribe to some sort of culturally or socially dictated definition of what a “real” relationship is/is not, polyamory allows you to have a wide array of emotionally and physically intimate relationships and the ability for everyone in your life to treat them all as equally important. I have a best friend from childhood that although we don’t rub our bits together, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t drop everything to rescue them from Tijuana at 3am with no notice. Or even possibly cancel a date with someone I’ve seen naked because they had a bad day and need a little Del coaching.

There’s no longer this artificial hierarchy in my life, where those who give me orgasms are somehow inherently more important to me than those who have held my hand while I’ve cried my eyes out. Many people I’ve spoken to have found themselves in situations where someone they’ve been fucking for a few weeks assumes they are entitled to the lion’s share of their new friend’s time and attention, even over blood-family members and long time friends. Now, we’ve all had that person who immediately took residence in our brain and we couldn’t think of anything better than to spend every waking moment with them (which us poly people refer to as “NRE”, for New Relationship Energy), and that can be great. But we’ve also all been the best friend, or other partner, or coworker, and been annoyed and hurt that their newly NRE’d friend has seemingly vanished from the Earth.

But the real thing that has come from this freedom, is that I have the power to allow my interactions with a person become whatever works best for both of us. If we’re hotly sexually attracted to each other, but she’s a Republican who loves to quilt and I’m a Libertarian who plays Halo for hours, we are free to get it on for hours in the bedroom and then go off and do our own thing. And even better, it allows for relationships that have deep rooted emotional intimacy with people who have a sexual orientation that doesn’t include my gender. Instead of finding out six months later that “boyfriend” means radically different things to two different people, it forces us to talk about what I mean, and what they mean, when we call each other that. It makes us make conscious, considered decisions about what our relationship will and won’t include, rather than just pretending that every single romantic and sexual relationship has to follow the rail from dating to going steady to engaged to married to divorced.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that? 

For me, it didn’t start with being in a dyad and then deciding to pursue other people, but I have a story that relates.

When I started dating A, back in the late 90’s, we both told each other we were poly when we first got together. As the situation would have it, we weren’t dating anyone else when we got together, and as these things go, we spend the first year completely obsessed with each other so dating others really wasn’t an issue. We never really talked about it other than noting attractive people we saw in the mall, or sharing fantasies about having group sex.

This turned out to be problematic. To be fair to both of us, although we knew what polyamory was and had read all the poly bibles at the time (mostly The Ethical Slut and copies of Loving More’s magazine), neither of us had a whole lot of experience with it, so we didn’t really know any better. I had no way of knowing that A’s idea of having an open relationship was me bringing home attractive women for us to share, and mine was more about having fully-fledged romantic and sexual relationships outside of ours. Also, A had assumed that I was only interested in dating women, when in fact I’m queer and date people from all over the gender spectrum. So it wasn’t until I started spending significant time with a man that all of this came to a head. A was very upset, both because they felt left out of this budding relationship, and A’s version of polyamory was more what I would call “soft swinging” – being romantically monogamous, but sharing third-party sexual partners from time to time. All of a sudden, A and I came to a screeching halt. We had never thought to discuss what “polyamorous” meant to either of us, because we both just assumed that what we envisioned in our head was what the other thought, too. We never thought to discuss hypotheticals, to know beforehand what we were free to do without “getting permission”, how much we wanted to know about the other’s outside relationships, etc.

And what’s funny is that we had a “contract”, so we thought we were covered. When I look back at it, I am amazed we had talked this out without ever discussing what our goals were in being open. Basically, we weren’t allowed to have sex with someone the other hadn’t met yet; we were fluid bonded but any other partners required safer sex protections; if we wanted to initiate a more serious relationship everyone involved would sit down together and agree to a new “contract”. It seemed clear to both of us, and yet it turned out to be so terribly lacking.

In the end, A and I had to split. A was incredibly uncomfortable with me dating or screwing people who weren’t cis gendered females, and was basically interested in a monogamous romantic relationship with me that allowed for a little hanky panky on the side. We tried, very hard, to find a middle ground, but in the end it was too complicated and too dangerous for either of our hearts. It’s sad, because looking back, if I knew more about how to negotiate and to be unafraid to be brutally honest with my partners, it’s likely we could have worked something out.

So the lesson learned here is that the very moment you find yourself assuming that a word means the same thing for your partner(s) as it does for you, it’s time to make absolutely sure. I can’t tell you how many times, with so many people, I’ve had long uncomfortable conversations about what “sex” means. (Think about it. Once I found out, too late unfortunately, that making out with tongue was “sex”; another time with another partner, that fisting wasn’t “sex”.) Is a silicone dildo a “cock”, and does it violate your safer sex agreements if it doesn’t have a condom? Is there a difference in permissions if there is/is not penetration? If no one has an orgasm, but they’re both naked and touching each other genitals, is that sex? Complicated, isn’t it?

Make sure if you use a title to describe your relationship (boy/girlfriend, lover, partner, spouse, primary/secondary, fuckbuddy, etc) that everyone in your love life knows what that means for the people involved. People make assumptions about my romantic/sex life all the time based on titles of my lovers – in fact, I was recently looking through my medical files from a hospital stay, and according to Johns Hopkins: I am straight, gay, and bisexual; I am celibate, married, and have excessive sexual partners; and they assumed that three different people was my spouse.) In reality, I have a “partner” I have never had sex with, a “girlfriend” I’ve never had a date with, an “assistant” (our vanilla-world code word for “slave”) who is my medical proxy and full time roommate, and a “boyfriend” who has G sized tits. All of these titles were agreed upon by both partners, and have been fully explained to each other, so no one gets confused; like I said in the beginning, I don’t have one relationship that holds more power or sway than any other, which can be hard to maintain when one of them lives in the same house as me. But for me, I’m happier when I am the master of my own love life, and I have found (through much trial and error) that having a spousal-type primary partner who comes before everyone else doesn’t jive with the way I want my life to be.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I want to take a moment to talk about language, especially after that last answer. It’s important to note that although for some people, “open relationship” and “polyamory” are synonymous, for many others it’s not. “Open relationship” can include a wide range of sexual and romantic arrangements that may or may not include sex, romance, or commitment. Some swingers, who identify as “monogamous”, will in the same breath explain that their relationship is “open”, because they see the sex they have outside of the relationship as purely recreational and having no long term meaning. Most polyamorous people shy away from “open relationship” for this exact reason – they tend to describe their relationships as being “polyamorous”, or “multipartnered”, or other terms that describe the exact flavor of polyamory they engage in, such as polyfidelity. That’s the other thing; I know many triads, quads, and other multipartnered polyamorous relationships that are “closed”; that is, no longer accepting new applications. I just wanted to point this out. As for me personally, I usually say “polyamorous”, or lately “non-hierarchical polyamory”.

Right now, at this very moment?

I am getting ready to have a risky surgery at the end of December. At the same time, I just legally changed my name (which requires changing just about every single document in my life, and all of my bills), I am looking for a new apartment with my slave, I am going through the application process for SSDI, and oh, it’s the holidays.

Yeah, my head is barely hanging on by a thread while Col. Sanders eyes my legs for his fryer. (Get it?)

But I have a team. In the closest circle is all of my lovers, each doing things that they are best at, to help me get through this. My partner Winter, that one with all the emotional intimacy? He’s been calming my fears about the surgery, and because our spiritualities are very similar, he has also been helping me in that realm. Also, it just so happens that he legally changed his name a few years ago, and his other partner is about it, so he knows the process really well and can walk me through each step so I don’t accidentally forget to tell the power company and lose power, or end up in this in-between ground for longer than necessary. My slave, Rave, is handling the core of the administrative tasks, like making sure my Will and Advanced Directives are all in order, making my doctor’s appointments and keeping my calendar, looking at potential apartments, making hotel reservations for everyone who’s coming to be here during my month-long hospital stay. When she started feeling overwhelmed, my play partner and service tiger (yes, making up your own titles means that you can end up with a service tiger. You know you’re jealous!) came forward without hesitation and volunteered to work in conjunction with Rave on getting that stuff done. Alex, my boyfriend, has been invaluable in his relentless goal of reminding me that even with all this medical stuff, I’m still sexy and vital and alive and important, and is keeping me from hiding in my cave hating myself and my life for the next month. He’s also very good at grounding me when I feel panicked, or overwhelmed, and he makes me able to focus on getting stuff done. My girlfriend Ruth has plans to come down once I get home because she’s a whiz at both medical aftercare as well as a domestic queen whose cooking can’t be beat. And there are more, people with whom I have a myriad of connections, sending me a little extra money so I can make the deposit on the new place, or giving me their frequent flier miles so others can come visit. I’m almost worried about stopping, and list all the wonderful and amazing people I have in my life who are going out of their way to help me through this quagmire of stress, but that would take way too long.

And never, in any moment, is there a breakdown where one person feels like they’re not intimately involved in my life in some way, or feel like someone else is intruding on their “territory”. Not only that, but I know that when I’m under the knife, all of the people I care about will be together, supporting and calming each other, taking shifts in the waiting room so no one person has to wait all 12 hours, and looking out for each other.

They live all over the country (mostly on the East Coast), and yet we’re all our own little dysfunctional family of choice. My friends and acquaintances (and the occasional stalker fan) make up a support network that bowls me over with their love, support, and devotion. In a time where most people are most worried that they might have to go through a scary ordeal alone, if there’s one fear I don’t have, is a lack of hands to hold, shoulders to cry on, ears to shout or whisper into, etc.

To me, that’s the real beauty in my life. Instead of having to choose one of these wonderfully talented, insanely gorgeous, wickedly intelligent people to be my own and only, I get to experience the wide array that they all bring into my life.

And I’m not even done yet. Ruth’s wife, Lizzie, makes me laugh with her sardonic wit. Winter’s spouse, Fireheart, is the voice of reason when the rest of us slip too far down the rabbit hole. In the polyamory community, your partner’s partners are called “metamours”, and I have some really awesome ones. In some ways, it’s like the prize inside the cereal box you didn’t know was there – you get to have these great friendships with someone you obviously have something in common with, since you both chose the same person to be in a relationship with.

Now, don’t let me be all Suzy Sunshine here. Polyamory is hard work. I recently separated from one of those spousal, “I come first” relationships, and it took a lot of time and energy to reshape things once they were gone. Everyone was worried that I would hole up and decide love was for dummies and walk away. There have been times when I had to break up with someone not because of anything wrong with our relationship, but because a metamour decided they didn’t like me or want me around. Some people are intellectually interested in polyamory/open relationships, only to find out that emotionally they can’t handle it; I’ve had more than one relationship come crashing down because someone was totally comfortable with the idea that they could go out and have sex/relationships with other people, only to find that they’re the ones home alone on a Saturday night while their boyfriend is out with someone else and they’re steaming.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I could write a book. Maybe I should write a book. Let me see if I can boil it down into a list.

A lot of people, both inside the poly demographic and not, make being polyamorous as more evolved, a more intellectual way of doing relationships, or meaning that one is more mature emotionally. I don’t think they realize that it sends the opposite message – that being monogamous means that you’re a less evolved, emotionally immature person. This does a lot of damage, as people who are monogamous “force” themselves into polyamory in order to seem hip, smart, and evolved, and just bottle up all the mental anguish they experience. I’ve had clients (as a pastoral care counselor and shaman) who beat themselves up for years, having one unsuccessful relationship after another because they’ve convinced themselves that polyamory is the only way cool people relate these days. It’s 100% okay to tell people you’re not sure but willing to try, or to come to the conclusion that it’s not for you. My friend and colleague Mollena Williams has a brilliant class she teaches at kink conventions (where polyamory is practically the norm, rather than the exception) on how to embrace monogamy as a perfectly acceptable relationship orientation.

I won’t say “communication, communication, communication”, because you’ve already heard that, or will soon, if you start talking to poly folks. I think, even more important and basic than communication, is “honesty, honesty, honesty”. Not that I think people lie on purpose (or at least, not most people), but I have found that doing this poly thing has really made me do some serious navel-gazing, and to be brutally honest with myself, first, about how I feel and what I think about relationships as a concept. And we’ve all been in situations where we’ve been less than truthful with a partner because we’re scared if we tell them the truth they’ll reject us. No one relishes the idea of having to admit that no, you really don’t like having Moonbeam over every night because he leaves the toilet seat up or makes snide comments about your music, when your partner is totally head over heels for him. Nor do we always enjoy four hour long conversations about whether or not it’s okay to have sex tonight (with each other or with other people). You kinda learn to be a process-junky, but there are some times when it can drive you crazy, too. People tell me all the time that I’m such a self-aware person, and I tell them that 75% of it is because I learned something about myself the hard way, usually by having my heart broken, or breaking someone else’s heart.

And that’s another thing people don’t talk about when it comes to having more than one relationship – heartbreak. One of the things that happens often in poly relationships is that relationships come to their natural end, but because we have other people in our lives, instead of just owning up and recognizing that the relationship is over, things just linger until resentment takes over and you just slowly drift apart. In some ways, it can be a good thing; dying slowly and quietly can be kinder and gentler than a shouting, dramatic fight followed by weeks of Ben and Jerry’s and Gray’s Anatomy. But either way, more relationships means more break-ups, and it can be difficult to feel totally wrecked but still have a date on Tuesday. It is a tricky thing to be there for your lover while they grieve the disappearance of someone else. If you’re the kind of person who ends up needing months of therapy and psych meds to get over a short-lived relationship, just be warned that bringing more people into your love life means that you’re going to be in that dark place often. It’s best if you can figure out what your break-up process is, and be able to explain it to others (“I need a week to listen to the Cure and wear all black, and I eat four pints of Cherry Garcia, and I won’t want to have sex or cuddles for a while.”) because it’s likely you’ll still be expected to be engaged with your other loves while nurturing yourself through it.

There are many ways to do poly “wrong”. Obviously, with any other judgment call, “right” and “wrong” are subjective, but these four are pretty commonly accepted within the poly demographic as being, at the least, problematic.

A. “…but my spouse doesn’t want to know.” It may seem like a good idea to put it in your contract that you don’t want to know about the other loves in your partner’s life, but trust us, that way lies ruin. First off, nobody likes being your dirty little secret – at least not in the long term. It’s hard on the self esteem, and it can be hard to have to be all stealth in public (no hand holding in the movies, or kiss goodnight on the doorstep). Also, information is a common balm for envy and jealousy (two different emotions, by the way); it can be tricky to figure out how much information you should be sharing and what should be just between you and your partner.

B. “Relationship broken; add more people.” Like I said before, sometimes in poly relationships it’s easier to let relationships linger rather than face a difficult conversation. In the same vein, when you’re not getting something fundamental from your current partners, it may seem elementary to go out and find someone else to get it from. This isn’t always a bad thing, but you should be clear with yourself and your partners that this is what is happening. More often than not, adding new people into a dysfunctional or struggling relationship only add complexity and strain; it’s harder for anyone to accept a new love in their partner’s life when they feel like their needs aren’t getting met. It’s a poly adage: love may be infinite, but time is not. If your partner is feeling neglected, or shut out, or disconnected, seeing you share your time and attention with a new person will only make things worse. Before you add a new person into your life, make sure you’re on steady ground. No one likes ringside seats to someone else’s relationship drama, especially if they’re sitting in the splash zone.

“I don’t feel beautiful unless everyone wants me.” As much as poly is touted as a relationship style for evolved, intelligent, self-aware people, I’ve run into more than my fair share of people who use it to feed an unending hole in their self-esteem. Some people can become addicted to NRE, and long term relationships require a lot of work and compromise. It can be easier to just jump from one rope to another, not fully letting go of one before grabbing the next. And if these people do decide to stick it out, be prepared to endure their take-a-number machines next to their bed; it’s not that they have a high sex drive, or that there’s anything wrong with casual sex, but because poly is supposedly “all about the love”, and we all know people who conflate love and sex, you might find yourself watching a glutton at the orgy feast, never having enough love in their life to make them feel whole.
“Poly is a cure for cheating.” No, it is not. It is totally possible to be poly and still cheat. Cheating is not about sleeping with someone else; cheating is about dishonesty and disrespect. Monogamists get so tied up in the sleeping with someone else part, because that’s the gold standard for being the most important person in someone’s life. But it’s not about where she put her fist last night, it’s that she was able to make the decision that even though it goes against your agreements or contract, she was going to do it anyway. There’s no room in polyamory for “I’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask permission.” If you’re just interested in lots of no-strings-attached sex, be honest and forthright about it, and more importantly, be ethical about it. Don’t let someone believe that you’ll take their desires into consideration if that’s not really your plan. Cheating can be intoxicating: it’s secret, and forbidden, and sexy in the moment. But the core of ethical polyamory is that it isn’t all about the sex, and if you don’t honor all of your different partner’s desires, then you’re not focused on what makes polyamory different from just sleeping around.

One of the best skill sets to have if you’re going to be poly, other than self-knowledge, is the ability to enjoy time alone as much as you enjoy time with a partner. There will be nights that your partner(s) will be off having fun with others and you’ll be stuck with the remote and the cat. It’s not the first mental picture we get when we think about open relationships – we’re so focused on the idea that we can go out with other people and have endless amounts of fun, that we forget that the other side of that is our partner’s third night in a row of snuggling alone with Mr. Teddy Bear. Many of us, having been raised in a monogamy-focused culture, have the expectation that once we’re in a relationship, we don’t have to be alone anymore. Sure, there are business trips and girl’s nights out, but they’re the exception instead of the rule. If you or your partner have other relationships, those other relationships are going to want the same amount of time and energy that your partner wanted in the beginning. I mean, you might be lucky and find another busy poly person (or someone else who has a severe lack of free time) who is fine with only seeing you one weekend a month, and only getting phone calls from your work, but they tend to be few and far between. So it usually means that someone is going to be on their own some of the time. It may help to have hobbies or interests that get you out of the house on a regular basis, or require long stretches of time and attention. This could be seen as an opportunity to pursue interests that your current partner(s) doesn’t share with you – you can turn up your polka music as loud as you want, or get lost in your guild’s weekly raid, or finish the great American novel. But it’s no fun to be sitting at home, trying desperately not to look at the clock, waiting for your partner to come back from a date.

Google Calendar. Or some other program/app where multiple people can see and post their activities in the same place. I honestly don’t remember how I managed before Google Calendar. It is a tremendous help when you’re dating three people who all have different schedules and availabilities, instead of making a hundred phone calls back and forth figuring out who you’re going out with when, or who is available to accompany you to the art gallery opening. I even keep my metamour’s schedules on my calendar, in case a partner forgets to tell me that she and Moonbeam are going away together for a week, or so if my partner is upset that I can’t go to the company picnic, a glance tells me that his girlfriend is available that day. There have been times when I couldn’t figure out where someone was, until I checked the calendar. I’m telling you, it’s a godsend.

Valentine’s Day. There is so much pressure around V-day, and sometimes there’s just no good solution. Sometimes, the best answer has been to purposefully spend the 14th alone, but to make sure to have special dates planned for my loves around that time – there’s too much meaning to being “the one who actually got the 14th”. Of course, this all depends on how you and your loves feel about February 14th in general – if you’re all a bunch of loveless curmudgeons who think it’s an invented holiday to sell overpriced flowers and candy, then don’t stress about it. However, if even one partner is feeling sentimental, it’s best to have a plan in place weeks (or months) before the actual day. Some poly families spend the day together, but if you have a large network of loves and metamours, that might get difficult to get them all in the same place at the same time. Some poly people have multiple dates on the same day. Some go away as a group, and hive off into various conglomerations as the weekend progresses. It’s just best not to forget about this until February 12th, when all of a sudden your coworkers and friends are asking you what your plans are, and you realize you have more than one person to think about. The same thing goes, to a lesser extent, for your birthday or other holidays that you celebrate.

Coming out. Thankfully, the average American is willing to overlook a lot of suspicious behavior if they know you’re already in a relationship, but there are just some things that can’t be hidden forever. Like any other form of coming out, it’s a very personal decision and not one to be made lightly. I haven’t seen as much parental outrage over coming out as poly (especially if you’ve already shocked them once, like coming out as queer, kinky, Pagan, or by having obvious body mods), but if you’re married or in a long term committed relationship and then decide to open it up, you will have to fend off lots of misunderstanding, both from family members and from potential partners who are new to poly. It can take a while for a person who hasn’t been exposed to poly people before to fully understand that yes, your husband knows about you having other relationships, he’s fine with it, he’s actually with his boyfriend right now! For this reason, some people (like me) only date people who already identify as poly (also, breaking in poly virgins, and having to carefully walk them through all the internal processing, as well as education, can get tedious if all you want is a friend-with-benefits who also likes Hitchcock movies) .

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Roma Mafia: Acknowledging the Worst Parts of Yourself

Roma Mafia, www.romamafia.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I’d wanted to open up my relationships since I was in high school, but I thought I was alone – it never occurred to me that there was an entire community of people out there having healthy, communicative, consensually open relationship structures. Because I was disconnected from that community and didn’t have the language to articulate my needs and desires, I was unfaithful in my earliest relationships to maintain my own happiness, and I regret that. So, in short, I wish I’d had more information sooner, or the wherewithal to seek it.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Situational jealousy. Being poly is harder for me when I’m in an emotional or vulnerable place – all I want to do is feel the warm, protective reassurance of my primary partner. It comes so suddenly sometimes – I’ll have an awful day, and all of a sudden can no longer stomach the thought of my partner going out on a date that night. There’s no way to “fix” this, I’m afraid, but my partner and I have certainly learned how to better deal with it. I’ve turned introspectively to try and determine the warning signs that indicate when a period of vulnerability is coming. I’ve examined why my “panic mode” necessitates I cling to my partner – why I feel like I “need” that specific support, why I “need” to assert my possessiveness at that time. And I’ve explored other options – calling a close friend to be with me during those times instead, for instance, or even seeking comforting company with another trusted play partner. A work in progress, of course, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by extraordinary people.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Speaking of extraordinary people, I’ve met countless numbers of them since I opened up my first relationship (4+ years ago). My poly identity came hand in hand with my kink identity, though, so opening up can’t take all the credit! But I truly feel as though I’ve met the most sensitive, intelligent, and creative people through non-monogamous avenues. In addition, I’ve come to know myself incredibly well. Being non-monogamous means that you’re constantly asking yourself to acknowledge a lot of really difficult subjects, the worst parts of yourself, really, and be willing to consistently reevaluate them and commit to evolving. Finally, I’ve become a superb (though not perfect!) communicator and mediator, and it’s worth mentioning that I’ve had the best sex of my life since opening up, both with my primary partner(s) and others I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with along my journey.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Spark: Free Agents

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

This certainly doesn’t apply to every relationship. But in our case, I wish I had realized that we are both interested in very very different sorts of people and have very different communication styles, and that it works out much better if we are not trying to play with the same person as a couple. In the beginning, it tended to happen that one of us would bring someone in to play with, and the other would be lukewarm but go along with it anyway. This always lead to a lot of awkwardness and bad situations where one of us would no longer want to play with the third but the other did… For me, it works out much better if we are both free agents.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I identify as queer and have always had attractions to a wide range of genders, but my wife has always been very uncomfortable with me playing with cisgendered men. It’s something we’ve dealt with in a variety of ways with varying success… initially, there was a lot of resentment and misunderstanding and hurt feelings, then a long period of time where it was an unquestioned rule. Since then we’ve had some really good conversations about why she feels that way, and started to put it back on the table as possible. When I didn’t understand why it was her request, I abided by it but always chafed and resented it…when she started opening up more to me about it, I had a lot more empathy and could accept it. So communication has been paramount. And really, I think age and experience has mellowed us both significantly.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The ability to play around with other people! I really am at my absolute happiest when I’m juggling two or three flirtations, and I love the tension and excitement of sorting out new partners. I’m deeply unmonogamous by nature, and I would have a very hard time settling down with one person forever. I could do it of course, but I’m much much happier not having to!

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

My wife and I have been together since high school, and open pretty much the whole time. Our relationship, our own identities, and our “outside” relationships have both changed so much over time, and there have been periods that were very difficult. But in the past year or two it feels like we’ve made huge breakthroughs both personally and in our ability to communicate with each other and know what we want. It feels like we’re finally settling in to a good, solid open relationship style.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Yarrow: Complex Organic Poly Web

On Friday, I sent a request for information from friends and acquaintances and smarty-pants folks in my life who I know have experience with polyamory and open relationships, as an attempt to mine my network for more insight and information about some of the difficulties of open relationships that Kristen and I have been going through lately. The interviews have been pouring in! I’ll be publishing them periodically in the next few weeks, and at the end of the series I’ll open it up for your input and thoughts on these questions too.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Yarrow

Yarrow, sunflowerriver.org

I always feel like I should state my subject position when coming into this kind of dialogue, so, for full disclosure/context: I identify strongly as poly, and have been functioning that way since 1998. I’ve had exactly one monogamous relationship ever (though at the very outset, I didn’t have language adequate to describe my desires or lifestyle, besides “dating around”), and when we tried to open it up to polyamory, it didn’t go very well. That was 1998; a lot has happened since then. Presently, I have two long-term primary partners with whom I live in an intentional community (I’m married to one of them), and two friends-with-benefits relationships with other people. My partners also have other partners. This web changes regularly, in a highly organic fashion. Nobody has “veto” power over anybody else, and we all place a high value on communication and emotional integrity. We tend to describe ourselves as an organic poly network. There are lots and lots of ways to be poly in the world; this is what we do.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I mostly wish I had had access to good role models, or any recognition that there is no single, one-size-fits-all, right way to do this. I knew very few other poly people when I began to recognize it in myself, and I developed all kinds of wrong ideas as a result. So: just because you’re dating someone, doesn’t mean you need to date the other people they’re dating. It also does not mean you need to love the people they love. It helps if you like them and you can all have dinner together, but it’s not required. This seems self-evident, but it’s not, and I see other people go through this as they move into polyamorous expression. Also: reality checks are vital, particularly with regard to one’s partners’ other partners. It is way too easy to tell yourself a story about what that person thinks and feels, to over-interpret casual actions or statements, to invest everything with excesses of meaning. And it’s very important to not do that. You want to know what they think or feel, ask them. And trust that they are honest with their response. Don’t try to “read between the lines.” Have integrity with your own responses to such things, engage in full disclosure (gently and tactfully, but with complete integrity), and other people will generally do the same.

Also: over-communication can be just as damaging as under-communication. Balance is important. Learning to identify when I am overwrought and will change my mind tomorrow, or feeling something too strongly to know what I will want the next day, was an incredibly important step towards functional polyamory. Another way to say that: sifting the apparent needs of the moment out from long-term needs is an extremely helpful step.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and
how have you overcome that?

At first, when I was in a mono relationship opening to polyamory (about 14 years go) the absolute hardest thing was to be honest with myself about what I wanted. To have internal integrity. I believed strongly that I was supposed to want certain things: a single life-long love, that elevated my existance to a meaningful plane; a soul-deep connection with a single other individual that would permeate all aspects of daily life and make them extraordinary. (Culturally, we teach our children to want this. And I’m not saying it’s not out there, BUT: it’s very much not a one-size-fits-all solution to the idea of relationship; it doesn’t have to take place inside the context of externally-committed monogamy; and where it intersects with the abdication of personal responsibility, it can be completely unhealthy, and can create dangerously unrealistic expectations.) So, I was mired pretty deeply in an internal struggle with that paradigm. And I lied to myself that I wanted that level of daily-life-interweaving, instead of independence. And I lied to myself that I wanted to want only one partner. I lied to myself about what I wanted from that partner. Getting through that tangle took a couple years, and completely destroyed that relationship (I am very fortunate that we are still friends). The hardest part about it, was figuring out what I really did want, and then ACCEPTING that. Making it be okay to be who I am and want what I want. No matter what that looked like to the overculture. Figuring that out, and then being able and willing to communicate it to my partner, was earth-shatteringly difficult. But once that happened, and we recognized that we needed irreconcilable things in a partnership, we were able to move forward (by breaking up and letting each of us take our own paths), and each of us was able to grow emotionally and spiritually, to come into ourselves, much more fully. Getting past the self-deception was the most challenging thing.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Self-actualization, and full actualization of each relationship I find myself in. Each new connection with another person can become whatever it is meant to become on the entire spectrum of friendship and intimacy. I am free to fall in love, and my partners are also free to do so. And we have each others’ full support in doing so, and in getting through hard times in relationships with each other or with others. Having several perspectives when something goes wrong is incredibly helpful; different people can offer fantastic insights into events and situations, and help the affected people see their way through difficult things. I have partners with whom my emotional relationship is profoundly deep, rich and complex, and others where our connection is more playful, and i get to have all of those things. Also, I get to *be* different things for different people; nobody around here has to be everything for anybody. If I really want something and it’s not going to happen in one relationship, it may come very naturally in another. I thrive on variety; this rich complexity satifies very deep needs in me. I am an independent agent who lives fully and deeply enmeshed in a strong, complex web of support, encouragement, and connectivity. I love everything about that.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I experience polyamory/monogamy as a type of orientation spectrum, not unlike gender or sexuality. This can be a really helpful way to think about it; some people are really wired to be happy one way or another, in a monogamous relationship only, or in open relatinships only, while lots of people live in the flexible middle ground somewhere, and could be happy with any of a number of relationship styles when things line up right. People’s relationship orientation can grow and change over time, just like their sexuality, gender orientation or gender presentation. Where a given individual falls on the spectrum at a given time is not something to attach value judgement to — you get a certain thread in the poly community that believes that polyamory is “more evolved” than monogamy. that’s bullshit. putting each other down to lift ourselves up only creates more division instead of creating understanding and community. there’s no right or wrong about wanting to be with a single partner or multiple partners, any more than there’s a right or wrong about being with a male or female or genderfluid partner.